Cancer-causing pollutants found in groundwater in Himachal Pradesh’s industrial region

The study revealed significant contamination of groundwater due to geogenic uranium and industrial pollutants such as zinc, lead, cobalt, nickel, and chromium which are exceeding to permissible level.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

NEW DELHI: Researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Mandi and IIT Jammu have found the presence of cancer-causing pollutants in the groundwater of Himachal Pradesh’s Baddi-Barotiwala (BB) industrial area.

The comprehensive study analyzed groundwater samples from the industrialised region of BB industrial area, where industrialization has contaminated groundwater with toxic metals.

The study revealed significant contamination of groundwater due to geogenic uranium and industrial pollutants such as zinc, lead, cobalt, nickel, and chromium which are exceeding to permissible level.

The reliance on untreated groundwater has caused numerous health problems, including significant reports of cancer and renal disease between 2013 and 2018.

Globally, over 80% of health issues in developing countries are linked to waterborne diseases, resulting in 1.5 million deaths annually from poor water quality and hygiene

The study found that the region's groundwater is rock-dominated, mainly of the calcium carbonate type. Uniform uranium levels were detected in all samples, with most metals traced to industrial sources, while uranium and molybdenum were naturally occurring.

The human health risk assessment revealed high non-carcinogenic risks for both adults and children, primarily due to natural uranium, with additional risks from industrial sources of zinc, lead, cobalt, and barium. Carcinogenic risks were high for adults, mainly from industrial nickel and chromium.

In India, groundwater is heavily used for agriculture and domestic consumption. However, rapid urbanization, industrialization, and population growth have led to increased groundwater use and a decline in its quality.

By determining potential contamination sources, the study evaluated non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic health risks from oral intake of contaminated groundwater using the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) human health risk assessment model for both adults and children. The researchers identified key metals of concern andprepared geospatial maps showing metal contamination and health risks across village boundaries.

Speaking about the research, Dr. Deepak Swami, Associate Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Mandi, said, “Groundwater poses high health risks through oral intake, necessitating urgent remediation. Monitoring industrial effluents for zinc, lead, nickel, and chromium is essential to prevent health hazards. Policies must be framed to balance industrial development with public health for sustainable growth.”

The study highlighted the need for improved effluent treatment to reduce these risks. Geospatial maps were created to show metal contamination and health risks, helping residents understand the situation and identify pollution sources. These maps can guide future policies and remediation efforts.

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