This was more than just a ‘study tour' for a select group of students from Labour India Gurukulam Public School, Kottayam. They travelled across Kerala, collecting water samples from the 44 rivers that criss-cross the State and came up with startling findings — the water from most of the rivers could not be used for drinking, not even for bathing.

Toxic samples

Most Keralites depend on these waterbodies for drinking-water, bathing, cleaning utensils and agriculture. Even if conventional treatment methods are used, many of the toxic pollutants remain in the water, posing grave health hazards.

Thirty five per cent of the water samples collected by the students showed presence of acids, ammonia, sulphate, nitrate, nitrite, calcium carbonate and other chemicals. Most rivers showed very high presence of cauliform bacteria, discharged into the rivers mainly from sewage. The study also proved that oxygen level in the rivers were fast depleting because of pollution, affecting marine life and the eco-system. The students used technology developed by the World Water Monitoring Federation to check the samples.

Indiscriminate dumping

Though this is a land where rivers are worshipped, many tanker lorries that clear excreta from septic tanks dump the material directly into rivers and lakes at night. Even if caught, most of the accused escape being prosecuted. Apart from the dumping of untreated chemicals and excreta, waste from poultry farms, slaughter houses and markets too are carried in lorries without number plates and dumped into waterbodies.

The pollution-treatment plants of many factories do not function and there is slack rule enforcement in many parts of the State. Unchecked use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and weed destroyers results in the residues finding their way into the ground water and waterbodies located nearby. The location of septic tanks near wells results even in contamination of well water, making it unusable.

The pollutants cause skin and intestinal diseases, kidney and respiratory problems, cancer, cholera, typhoid, severe fever and other diseases. The worst affected are children with weak immunity.

“The State does not have a full-fledged system to neutralise the increasing-presence of pollutants in the drinking water. The only solution is to build a culture to preserve and protect our waterbodies and to effectively treat chemicals and garbage. Such a culture must be built up, from childhood. Apart from the Government, NGOs, socio-cultural and religious organizations should come together and ensure the health of the waterbodies and thereby people's health,” said George Kulangara, the school's founder and the Chairman of Kerala River Protection Council. He can be contacted at 99614 00966.