From Ghotki to Badin: High concentrations of hazardous chemical found in the Indus river

Published: November 19, 2011
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The World Health Organisation specifies that only 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic should be present in a river, but nearly 200 ppb of the harmful chemical was present in some bodies of water in Sindh. PHOTO: FILE

The World Health Organisation specifies that only 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic should be present in a river, but nearly 200 ppb of the harmful chemical was present in some bodies of water in Sindh. PHOTO: FILE

HYDERABAD: Dangerously high levels of arsenic, a toxic element, have been found in the subsoil water on the left bank of the Indus River in Sindh, and experts alarmed by this fact have started a project to protect the people from the threat it poses.

A three-day workshop was held at the Indus hotel by the chemical engineering department of the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) and the University of Arizona on how to deal with the contaminated subsoil water. Prof. Dr Yar Muhammad Khawar said that, “The element is present in nearly 11 districts, including Tando Allahyar, Khairpur, Ghotki, Shaheed Benazirabad, Matiari and Thatta.”

The World Health Organisation specifies that only 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic should be present in subsoil water, but nearly 200 ppb of the harmful chemical was present in some bodies of water in Sindh. Dr Khawar said that a rigorous study was needed to identify those areas with high arsenic concentration so that the potential threat it poses can be stemmed. Sample studies have been carried out in some areas, but there are no official statistics of the number of people who have fallen ill after consuming contaminated water.

Prof. Dr Muhammad Aslam Pervez said that the substance is associated with a wide range of illnesses. It can induce several types of cancers, including that of the bladder, lung and skin. The chemical also damages the nervous system, the reproductive system and the heart and blood vessels. The chemical can also cause birth defects, nausea and vomiting. “Unfortunately the most vulnerable areas lack diagnostic facilities to detect cases related to the high intake of arsenic,” he said.

Though many of the diseases caused by arsenic are curable, scientists prefer preventive measures instead. Technological methods that can prevent the disease include oxidation-reduction reaction, precipitation, adsorption and ion exchange, solid liquid separation, physical exclusion and coagulation to remove or reduce arsenic. However, these methods are very costly and require a lot of energy.

The USAID has given Rs22 million to the chairperson of the chemical engineering department at MUET, Prof. Dr Khadija Qureshi to establish a water testing laboratory, organize awareness programmes and fund two PhD students in waste water treatment. Dr Khadija is the first Pakistani woman to obtain a PhD in chemical engineering. The experts at MUET have already started working on low-cost technology which can be used to treat arsenic present in water at home.

Dr Deeba Ratna from Nepal, Dr Dragacia Veselinovic, Dr Inam Bhatti and Prof. Dr Muhammad Saleh Soomro also spoke about the harmful effects of contaminated water at the event.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Suraj
    Nov 19, 2011 - 11:11AM

    So, WHY is the US yet again giving money away they don’t have? And to INDIA? One of the up and coming economies? USAID – WHEN WILL YOU LEARN THAT COUNTRIES NEED TO BECOME INDEPENDENT OF YOU????? Get out of our business and make our OWN government be responsible for its people – your “AID” only makes us continually dependent on you.

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  • Adnan Khan
    Nov 19, 2011 - 12:02PM

    No wonder, SEPA officials are with industries for polluting the Indus river.Recommend

  • sashayub
    Nov 19, 2011 - 1:09PM

    ENGRO has an entire manufacturing complex at Ghotki and my personal opinion is that these chemicals are coming from ENGRO factories………………….the EPA should stand up and take note of this..Recommend

  • fasmik
    Nov 19, 2011 - 1:54PM

    Its a pity how our poor have to suffer in all aspects..from hunger to direct exposure to contaminated food and water. On top of it there is no real medicare in this country for those who cannot afford to pay……Any nation who is so brutal and oppressive towards common & low income people, is headed straight towards Hell.Recommend

  • Aneeza
    Nov 19, 2011 - 7:16PM

    @sashayub Engro does not have arsenic as its effluent to the best of my knowledge.

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  • Waqas
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:08PM

    @sashayub Please do some research before giving such statements. Need to know two facts in this regard. 1) No Urea Fertilizer industry of Pakistan (including Engro) generates any effluent that contain Arsenic 2). The effluent from Engro goes to the canal and not River. Also it is NEQS (National Environmental Quality Standards) compliant.

    My suggestion is to collect samples from various locations from various rivers of Pakistan at one time and get them analyzed from a reputed laboratory. Develop a concentration profile and narrow down to determine the source(s) of Arsenic. The matter is no doubt very serious.

    In addition to Arsenic there is another substance that is effecting our poor population and that is Fluoride. Poor people in our villages are pumping water from lower depth and there are chances that the water is high in Fluoride. Fluoride is a substance that may be good for our teeth but if taken in excess can lead to irregular growth of bones and mental retardation, specially in children. And there are examples of fluoride poisoning in Pakistan where doctors declared the disease as something caused by a “Mysterious Virus”.

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