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Arsenic bomb ticks in capital colony - RMC in snooze mode, meeting today

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  • Published 26.11.14

Pathalkudua perhaps needs Erin Brockovich or one of her ilk to deliver them from the canker of civic neglect.

The home to 20,000 people in ward No. 17 of Ranchi is grappling with arsenic poisoning, courtesy contaminated drinking water, and their only atom of hope is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to provide safe drinking water in the nation’s 17,995 habitations by March 2017.

Unless, of course, they find a consumer crusader like Brockovich who led a 1993 lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating drinking water in the town of Hinkley, California.

Residents of Hinkley were suffering higher rates of cancer — people of Pathalkudua fortunately are not that unfortunate yet — owing to pollutants used to fight corrosion in a natural gas pipeline. At $333 million, the 1996 settlement won by Brockovich was the largest sum ever awarded in a US class-action lawsuit.

Md Kalim (65), one of the many residents of Pathalkudua suffering from symptoms of arsenic poisoning like skin pigmentation, said the Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) was doing little to provide them safe drinking water.

“Mine is a family of 18. Every day, we need around 60 litres of water for drinking and cooking purposes. Ever since arsenic presence was confirmed, we are afraid to drink water from wells. The tankers sent by RMC barely buffer the crisis of pure drinking water,” Kalim said.

The elderly man is not exaggerating at all. The RMC has been wheeling in two tankers, each of 5,000 litres, to Pathalkudua after arsenic contamination was confirmed. But, while 10,000 litres of water is arguably not adequate for 20,000 people, its quality is also in question, claim residents.

“Water samples from 17 households at Church Lane in Pathalkudua tested positive for arsenic. Groundwater in the area is not safe for consumption,” confirmed an official of the drinking water and sanitation department, but he could not shed light on the water that the RMC tankers bring.

Currently, no house on Church Lane has RMC tap connection and hence, is deprived of any secondary source of water.

Md Nayeem, another elderly resident who had a deep bore well drilled on his premises four months ago, is caught in a predicament. “Every family has one ailing member. Doctors say it is because of the water we drink. I spent money on the well and now cannot drink its water,” he rued.

Arsenic poisoning is a medical condition caused by elevated levels of arsenic in the body. The dominant cause is groundwater that naturally contains high concentrations of the metalloid.

Symptoms begin with headaches, confusion, severe diarrhoea and drowsiness. As the poisoning develops, convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation may occur. When poisoning becomes acute, blood in urine, muscle cramps, hair loss and more convulsions are seen. Organs of the body usually affected by arsenic are lungs, skin, kidneys and liver. The final result is coma and death.

On November 14, a team from Central Groundwater Board had collected water samples from the 17 homes. Senior hydrologist of the board T.V.N. Singh had said the samples would be sent to CMRI in Dhanbad for testing. The report is yet to come.

Ranchi civil surgeon Gopal Srivastava said nail samples of some arsenic victims had been sent to BIT-Mesra for tests. “We are expecting the report soon. A high-level meeting is also scheduled at the state secretariat tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss ways to solve the problem,” he added.

RMC’s chief executive officer Manoj Kumar refused to speak to The Telegraph on drinking water crisis in Pathalkudua and what the civic authorities were doing to stem arsenic contamination.

Perhaps Kumar never heard of subterranean arsenic removal or SAR technology in which aerated groundwater is recharged into the aquifer to create an oxidation zone that can trap iron and arsenic.

Deputy CEO Om Prakash Shah said sending tankers to Pathalkudua was a temporary solution. “We will discuss remedies at Nepal House,” he echoed Srivastava.

Is the drinking water in your locality safe?