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Toxins swamp festive waters

- Twin pollution control board surveys bare urgent need for green Puja in capital

One man’s celebration is another man’s poison in revelling Ranchi.

The level of pollution in water bodies across the capital has shot up dangerously following immersion of idols — many of them made of toxic paints and fabric — on Dashami and the day after. And, the peril is only expected to increase from next week after Kali Puja bisarjan and Chhath rituals.

The Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) — which tested the waters of Subernarekha River, Ranchi Lake, Line Tank Road and HEC Sector III pond on October 21 (Saptami) and October 25 (Ekadashi) — has figured out how chromium content has increased, along with hardness of water, and level of dissolved oxygen dipped within a span of four days.

According to JSPCB, chromium in Subernarekha was found to be 0.061 parts per million (ppm) during the second test as against 0.021ppm on October 21. The same toxin level in Ranchi Lake was 0.536ppm on October 25 against 0.16ppm earlier. Line Tank Talab’s chromium content had increased to 0.226ppm a day after Dashami, while it was 0.118ppm before. Sector III Talab was the worst affected with the highest chromium level of 0.86ppm against 0.079ppm earlier.

“Chromium indicates the toxicity of water. Our tests revealed drastic increase in metal content in water bodies after Durga Puja,” said JSPCB member S.K. Jha.

Jha pointed out that the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for chromium is 0.05ppm. All the four water bodies already had more than the permissible limit of metal even before the immersions, which further poisoned them.

“Water with a chromium level lesser than 0.05ppm is accepted as clean. The more the chromium, the more toxic the water becomes,” said an engineer of the drinking water and sanitation department.

While short-term effects of chromium above the MCL include skin irritation and ulceration, long-term exposure to the toxic metal can damage liver, kidney and nerve tissues, warn experts of the United States Environment Protection Agency. “If chromium assumes its hexavalent form, it can even turn carcinogenic,” added Nitish Priyadarshi, an environmentalist in Ranchi.

The JSPCB findings also raise an alarm on hardness of water. In Subernarekha, the hardness of water on first count was 90ppm, which increased to 220ppm four days later. In Ranchi Lake, the count jumped from 140ppm to 228ppm; in Line Tank Talab, the corresponding figure was 120ppm and 390ppm; and Sector III pond registered a hardness of 100ppm on October 21 and 110 on October 25.

Soft water has a calcium and magnesium range of 70-140ppm. If the count is between 140ppm and 210ppm, water is considered medium hard, and from 210ppm to 320ppm, it is fairly hard. Hardness up to 300ppm is acceptable.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no convincing evidence that water hardness causes adverse health effects in humans, though it counteracts with detergent and can ruin fabric. In fact, the National Research Council has found hard water can actually serve as a dietary supplement for calcium and magnesium. However, some studies have shown a weak inverse relationship between water hardness and cardiovascular disease in men.

Dissolved oxygen (DO), another parameter to judge cleanliness of water, too has triggered worries. The DO level decreased in all the four water bodies (see chart) on October 25, with the plunge being worst for Line Tank Talab at 5.4mg/litre. Any water body, where the DO level dips below 5mg/litre, is dangerous for aquatic life. If the level drops to 2mg/litre, it kills.

Alarmingly, only a handful of the 130 Durga Puja organisers across the city had immersed idols through October 24 and 25. The remaining carried out the ceremony only on October 26, after the JSPCB tests.

Incidentally, not a single organiser in Ranchi swore by green Puja this year. Ajit Sahay, co-ordinator of Mahanagar Durga Puja Samiti, claimed there was nothing they could do to prevent the situation. Environmentalists, however, advised strict use of herbal paints, instead of cheaper chemical ones that have high content of magnesium, lead, titanium and chromium.

How can we ensure eco-friendly Pujas in Ranchi?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com


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