Soil, water and air contaminated with heavy metals in these Chhattisgarh villages

Delhi has been in spotlight for its poor air quality but towns and villages near industrial clusters and coal mines may be far worse off. A report called “Poisoned” on water, air and soil pollution in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh released recently highlights a severe pollution crisis in the region with levels of several carcinogenic heavy metals in air, water and soil not meeting standards. This is probably the first time environmental parameters in this region are being monitored, say authors of the study. No town or city in Chhattisgarh is being monitored under the National Air Quality Index (NAQI) programme of the Centre.
Residents of villages in Tamnar block had been complaining of visible pollution and associated health impacts for long but the state or central pollution control board (CPCB) didn’t conduct any studies here. Villagers are now demanding that Chhattisgarh government immediately initiate continuous monitoring of emissions and health data, apprehend the polluters and take remediation measures.

Scientists found 9 out of 12 soil samples from the villages to be heavily contaminated by fly ash. Levels of heavy metals like chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni), Cadmium (Ca) and Antimony (Sb) in soil were found to be exceeding the Dutch Intervention Levels in many cases. The environment ministry’s guidance document for assessment and remediation of contaminated sites lists the Dutch intervention levels for mapping of soil and remedial action. Based on this scientists and health experts—Dr Manan Ganguli from UK and Dr Mark Chernaik of the Environmental Law Alliance US who interpreted the lab findings for the report said levels of chromium, nickel, cadmium and antimony in soil samples would require remedial action immediately. Cadmium levels in soil for example were found to be 18 times the safe standard in a village called Regaon, Chromium levels in soil in Kunjemera village was 3.3 times the safe standard.
Water and air samples collected from five villages—Kosampali, Dongamahua, Kodkel, Kunjemera and Regaon were also found to be contaminated with high levels of cadmium, chromium, manganese, selenium and others. In air, levels of manganese in a couple of villages for example exceeded health guidelines by 1.75 to 2.48 times, levels of arsenic again in samples from two villages exceeded environment ministry’s annual standard by 1.36 to 1.75 times.

Similarly, water samples from water bodies in Regaon village exceeded the arsenic standard by 1.7 times, cadmium levels exceeded guidelines by 4.4 times. Other villages also didn’t meet standards.
“Villagers had been complaining of health issues for quite some time now. But none of the government agencies were monitoring any of the parameters here. The community wanted some data to explain for the environmental and health crisis here. So they reached out to us for assistance with monitoring their environment. A health study is also being carried out simultaneously by independent public health professionals in the region,” said Shweta Narayan of Community Health Monitoring who conducted the study along with Dalit Adivasi Mazdoor Sangathan. Members from the community were trained in taking air, water and soil samples which were then set off to laboratories in Oregon, USA. The air samples were collected using an air sampling device called MiniVol. “The samples were taken by trained community members as per laboratory specifications and then shipped off. Scientists and public health experts interpreted the laboratory results for us,” added Narayan. Villagers from here had complained of chronic joint pains, bone deformities, skin allergies, respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis and others.

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