Water found polluted with ammonium perchlorate used in rocket fuel

About 40 wells located in Keezhmadu near a unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have been found contaminated with ammonium perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel.

A team of officials from the Pollution Control Board, district health and ground water departments carried out an inspection following a complaint by the panchayat. A medical officer with the primary health centre had demanded a probe into a report by a research scientist from the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.

The contaminated water would affect iodine absorption, which, in turn, would affect thyroid hormone production, said M.S. Mythili, chief environmental engineer. After the inspection, officials collected samples of the water to be tested at a laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram, said District Medical Officer Haseena Mohammed.

The District Collector will visit the area on Tuesday for a first-hand analysis.

The health authorities have directed the 176 affected families in the region not to use the water for domestic purposes. Tanker lorries are, at present, supplying water to the affected families.

Ms. Mythili said it was yet to be known how the chemical had contaminated the ground water and the extent of the contamination. The ISRO unit has, on paper, a waste disposal system in place, which takes the chemical via tankers to a barge and disposes it of in the sea. However, waste water on the organisation’s premises was found to contain the chemical, she said.

Environmental activist S. Seetharaman said the unit, spread across 50 acres, had been around for about 30 years. The unit is situated at an elevated area, while most of the affected families are living behind the unit. It is not known for how long the ground water had been contaminated. Though a health check-up in the area had not been completed, about 60 to 70 people had been reported to have thyroid problems, he said.

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