Disease erupts in rural areas with little surface water

Hand-pump, a convenient contraption for drawing groundwater, particularly in rural areas with little or no surface water supply, has led to a spurt in fluorosis disease in several States, including Andhra Pradesh.

A team of doctors and scientists of the Geological Survey of India and the National Institute of Nutrition, which has been monitoring the intensity of fluorosis in the endemic areas where fluoride content in drinking water is far higher than permissible levels of 0.5 ppm, say that after the emergence of hand-pumps, people become more dependent on groundwater even if one or two sources of surface water are available in their villages.

D. Raja Reddy, former NIMS Director and consultant neurophysician, Apollo Hospitals, along with scientists Leela Iyengar, Sunderrajan Krishnan and Rajnarayan Indu surveyed villages and tribal areas in the affected areas of Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Team visits States

The team, after visiting Tapatjurigaon in Assam, Minati and Yashoda Kunz in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh and villages of Nalgonda, said that after hand-pumps were introduced in these endemic areas, the incidence of fluorosis went up.

“Limb deformities [skeletal fluorosis] are more pronounced in the young than older people in the affected villages as hand-pumps became common in the last decade. As a result, ingestion of drinking water with high content of fluoride increased,” Dr. Reddy says.

Although untreated surface water was unsafe, it, however, did not have high levels of fluoride, nitrates and total dissolved solids as in groundwater in these areas.

The team launched an awareness drive by using simple kits available in the market to determine fluoride levels. “With the kits, we showed groundwater, which turned yellow in the sample test, was not fit for drinking” Dr. Reddy said. The team suggested that the district officials send mobile teams to test water drawn from every hand-pump and tag a red sticker if the water was not fit for consumption.

In Nalgonda too, out of 600 fluoride-affected villages, only 450 get Krishna water but not round the year. In all the endemic villages, the problems of malnutrition and calcium-deficient food were aggravating fluorosis.

Dr. Reddy said ensuring good nutrition with calcium and other vitamins could check fluorosis. Ensuring that children get a glass of milk can improve their calcium intake.

Meanwhile, Ms. Leela Iyengar also developed a simple filter for filtering fluoride and other constituents. “Tata group is helping us to procure these filters [Rs. 800 each] and install them in villages,” Dr. Reddy said.