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Fluoride alert for groundwater

Ranchi, Jan. 10: Excess fluoride content in drinking water drawn from the ground in rural areas here has alarmed researchers of Princeton University, USA, and Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra.

Fluoride levels from 01 to 08 parts per million (PPM) were found in several areas in Ranchi while the World Health Organisation says that anything about 1.5PPM is dangerous for human consumption.

Consuming fluoride-contaminated water leads to problems such as accelerated tooth decay, painful warping of bones and skeletal as well as dental fluorosis. These problems deserve immediate attention because an Unicef report states that 60 to 70 million people in India have fluorosis or are at risk, said Luke MacDonald of the department of civil and environmental engineering, Princeton University.

MacDonald is in the state to assess condition of villages in Palamau, Garhwa and some parts of Ormanjhi so that pilot projects for eliminating fluoride from drinking water could be started.

A preliminary survey conducted in Palamau, Garhwa and a part of Ormanjhi — by Gopal Pathak of BIT, Mesra, under a Unicef project — has revealed that in some villages almost all drinking water sources has fluoride. In other villages, water drawn from several wells and hand-pumps had fluoride levels from 1PPM to 8 PPM, said Pathak.

That is why, MacDonald said, it is necessary to find an appropriate treatment strategy. “Our effort is to recommend a simple technology usable in the rural villages of Jharkhand,” said MacDonald.

The Princeton University researcher suggested using hydroxyapatite as a filtering agent to tackle high fluoride content. “A simple technology involves using hydroxyapatite is not expensive. It costs around Rs 5 per kg and is available locally. Filters using this chemical is easy to handle in villages,” he said.

“Another advantage of using hydroxyapatite is that it is safe because it is also used as the main component in grafting bones. It is unlikely to release anything except calcium and phosphate.”

Other systems that use aluminium are not safe as aluminium ions can lead to neurological disorders. However, chemical tests are required to eliminate the presence of minerals or other chemicals, which can vary from place to place, MacDonald said.

To make the implementation of fluoride elimination systems in villages effective, the state government, village teachers, and a third party should be involved, he added.

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