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GenNext at risk of brain damage

Now that Delhi is acting like a bride preparing for its 2009 wedding, the Yamuna Cleaning Project could hardly have been left behind, reports Bharati Chaturvedi.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2006 02:30 IST

The Russians routinely get a black mark over their miscalculated use of poison. Resilient Rasputin first, then the angry Ukrainian Yushchenko, doused in dioxin, supposedly by the Russians? That dioxin a living room chemical, although the Stockholm Convention had already listed it as one of the world's dirty dozen due for extermination.

Now we have the late Litvinenko, probably poisoned with Polonium 210. Does that sound exotic? A web search shows it is: it's so rare, only 100 grams is produced annually.

The fascinating part of my search was learning how Polonium got its name, in the late nineteenth century: from Poland, the home of its discoverer, Marie Curie, (some say she died of it). Then, as now, the element made Russialook bad, because Polandwas then under partial Russian control.

There's a larger point here — proportions. Two weeks ago, the on-line version of the Lancet published a Harvard-Mt. Sinai study suggesting that the brains of millions of children worldwide are likely poisoned by industrial chemicals.

Till now, most of us, at least in India, believe that now that lead is out of our petrol, at least our children's brains are not impacted by pollution. This study shows we're wrong. The researchers made a list of 202 chemicals that harm the human brain, and found that 100 were commonly used.

No policy checked these chemicals for their health impact, although even a small degree of damage impedes optimal brain function. The researches believe that the real impact will unfold only slowly. But they are certain that we do have a pandemic on our hands. As one of the researchers, Philippe Grandjean says, "the brain of our children is our most precious economic resource…" Well, given how poor the regulation is in India, we're guilty of playing a Russia on our children.

As far as I can see, only an aggressive campaign by parents for improved chemical regulation will protect Gen Next. The problem is that we don't realise this. The poisoning of a spy shocks us, but the mass dumbing down of our children is so huge in scale, it escapes our attention.

Cleaning the Yamuna

Now that Delhi is acting like a bride preparing for its 2009 wedding, the Yamuna Cleaning Project could hardly have been left behind. In the midst of all the plans, one can only hope they remember that the slum residents on the Yamuna Banks have been found to lend to less than 0.03 per cent of the pollution. So let us leave them alone, shall we? And handle the rest of the city's more damaging sewage?

If you feel for planet Earth, write

First Published: Nov 27, 2006 02:30 IST