The Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) has refused to disclose where in the city arsenic levels in the water exceed 10 parts per billion (ppb), the acceptable concentration level set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WASA chemist Zainab told The Express Tribune that WASA and the environmental science department of Punjab University tested water from 457 tubewells last year and found that, in 14 samples, the levels of arsenic exceeded 50 ppb, the acceptable level for Pakistan, as set by the Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA). However, she refused to say exactly how far these samples exceeded the 50ppb threshold.
At 173 tubewells, the level of arsenic was found to be above 10ppb, the acceptable limit set by the WHO and most developed countries. The WASA chemist refused to say which areas were supplied with water between 10ppb and 50ppb. The study was conducted after the Lahore High Court had taken suo motu notice of press reports of an Environmental Protection Department study that found arsenic contamination at 253 of 392 tubewells.
WASA officials had criticised the study, saying the EPD had used faulty methodology. Zainab said that the WASA and PU study was more accurate as it used a more advanced technique called inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).
The LHC disposed of the case after the WASA managing director told the court that it planned to install filtration plants at each of Lahore’s 150 union councils.
WASA officials said that they had so far installed 44 filtration plants, each costing around Rs1 million, and would install six more by the end of August. Plants have been set up at seven places where the WASA study found water to be most contaminated with arsenic. These places are National Town, Raj Garh; Corporation Society in Islampura, Sanda; Patiala Ground; Township; Iqbal Park; Jahangir Road near Mughalpura; and Ghaziabad Main Bazaar.
Work on a plant at Kohlu Ghar near Misri Shah bridge is underway, while plants are yet to be installed at Rafiabad Darbar near Bund Road; Old Ravi; Paracha Colony; Yousaf Park near Sheihkupura Road; Majeed Park; and Aziz Colony. These are the other places where arsenic levels exceed 50ppb. Work on an arsenic removing plant is also underway at Brandreth Road, where the concentration level is between 10 and 40ppb.
Tanveer Ahmad, a senior construction engineer at the WASA, said that they had been unable to find space to install filtration plants at the above places as they were too congested. Each plant requires building a room measuring 12 feet by 12 feet.
Chaudhry Aftab, another engineer working on the project, said that the plants could not filter all the water from the tubewell, so residents did not get filtered water at their homes. The filtered water is available through taps at the plant that must be collected in bottles or buckets.
Studies have shown that long-term exposure to arsenic increases the risk of skin, lung, bladder, kidney and liver cancer, as well as various other illnesses. High arsenic levels also affect reproduction and child development.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.