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Staff crunch hits water quality tests

Ranchi, May 8: The fluoride and iron content in water is going unchecked in several districts across the state for several months now, thanks to an acute crisis of staff in water testing laboratories.

The state drinking water and sanitation department has set up water testing laboratories in Garhwa, Palamau, Latehar, Chaibasa, Simdega, Gumla, Chatra, Hazaribagh, Ramgarh, Lohardaga, Seraikela-Kharsawan and Khunti districts while the state-level facility is located in Ranchi.

Most of these labs are doing without chemists, who conduct tests of water samples, laboratory assistants who help chemists in recording data and helpers who collect samples from the field.

The sanctioned strength in every lab is one chemist, one lab assistant and a helper.

With the fluoride and iron count being high in water in a majority of Jharkhand’s 24 districts, the staff crunch has become a cause of concern for the drinking water and sanitation department.

“Residents of districts, where fluoride and iron concentration in water is high, suffer from various health problems. In the absence of enough hands to conduct the crucial tests, we are unable to monitor the quality of water being supplied to these districts or chalk out alternative ways to provide water,” admitted Vivek Singh Chauhan, state co-ordinator (water quality), drinking water and sanitation department.

He added that they were trying their best to fill the vacant posts.

“We have been asked by the Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation to hire agencies from outside for carrying out water sample tests. A few days back, we outsourced the work to two city-based agencies — Dipankar Bharti and Sai Chemical laboratory. Let’s see what are their findings,” Chauhan said.

The permissible limit for fluoride in water is 1.5mg per litre and iron 0.3mg per litre.

But several districts have crossed the limits.

According to 2013 test data available with the state drinking water and sanitation department, fluoride content in water was the highest in Palamau (9mg per litre) followed by Garhwa district (5mg per litre), Koderma (2mg per litre) and Simdega (2mg per litre).

Simdega tops the iron content list with 25mg per litre. East Singhbhum also fared poorly at 14mg per litre, Gumla 6mg per litre, Lohardaga 4mg per litre, Ranchi 3mg per litre and Dhandbad 2mg per litre.

Sahebganj, Latehar and Pakur shared the same iron count of 1mg per litre.

Chauhan further said that they were trying to stop contamination of water.

“We are in the process of preparing data and sending the details to our higher authorities, who will chalk out alternative methods like implementing mini water schemes that involve supply of water through tanks and pipes. Depending solely on ground water is risky because of the presence of high levels of fluoride and iron,” he added.

While residents of urban areas mostly depend on pipe and ground water, rural folks use wells, bore wells and waterfalls.