- River Pollution: A global problem
- Threat posed by high concentration of chemicals in surface and ground water
- How Pharmaceuticals pose a threat to river waters?
- How Indian government regulate the pollution in river waters
Antibiotics are contaminating rivers and posing health risks
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The importance of water is incomparable. Water constitutes 70% of our total body composition. All major civilizations in ancient times developed along the banks of major rivers. Not only it is used as an essential component for survival, water is required for agricultural and industrial activities, and power generation, thus playing a central role in global food supply, economic prosperity and the survival of all living organisms.
River Pollution: A global problem
- River pollution has become a major cause of concern across the world in the past few decades.
- Its common causes include industrial discharge, open defecation, untreated waste from chemical and pharmaceutical industries, waste generated by hospitals, clinics and animal husbandry units.
- Recent reports on the presence of high amounts of myriad pharmaceutical residues in water bodies in Hyderabad only highlight the sordid state of affairs with the country’s handling of urban and industrial waste, and the consequent pollution of water bodies.
- Several rivers in the world, including those in India, have been reported to have high concentrations of antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, oxytetracycline and ofloxacin.
Threat posed by high concentration of chemicals in surface and ground water
- The English physician John Snow was the first to suggest that the cause of London’s “Broad Street cholera outbreak” in 1854 was the leakage of sewage full of faecal bacteria into a public well.
- In 2000, Cifuentes identified irrigation as a link between water pollution and health, while Carr in 2001 highlighted bathing, food and person-to-person contact as modes of disease transmission from polluted water.
- In 2010, Ebenstein reported that a one-grade deterioration in Chinese river water quality was associated with a 9.7% increase in digestive cancer incidence.
- In 2011, Brainerd and Menon reported that pregnant women being exposed to a 10% increase in agrichemical levels in Indian rivers during their first month of conception was associated with an 11% increase in the likelihood of one-year mortality among newborns.
- Infants are also highly susceptible to water-borne pathogens and infant mortality serves as a good yardstick, especially in India, where infant mortality rates remain higher than the global average. The additional advantage of using this indicator is that it limits concerns of prior exposure to
- By correlating upstream and downstream water quality the average effect of a 1% increase in faecal bacteria is an additional 3-5 deaths per 100,000 births in a given month. In comparison, the corresponding downstream infant mortality impact is about 1-2 deaths per 100,000 births.
- Brandon and Homman found that providing clean water supply and sanitation to the whole of India would save $3-8 billion by way of forgone earnings. In particular, they suggest that 59% of annual environmental costs in India are incurred by surface water pollution.
How Pharmaceuticals pose a threat to river waters?
- As pharmaceuticals are designed to interact with living organisms at low doses, even low concentrations affect freshwater ecosystems.
- Several rivers in the world and in India, have been reported to have high concentrations of antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, oxytetracycline and ofloxacin.
- A recent OECD report estimates that 10% of pharmaceuticals have the potential to cause environmental harm—hormones, painkillers and antidepressants are the biggest concerns.
- There is growing evidence of negative impact on environment. The laboratory and field tests shows the traces of oral contraceptives causing feminization in fish and amphibians, and residues of psychiatric drugs altering fish behaviour.
- Unless adequate measures are taken to manage risks, the situation is set to worsen, as the use of pharmaceuticals rises with ageing populations, advances in healthcare, rising meat and fish production, and the increased use of antibiotics for livestock.
How Indian government regulate the pollution in river waters
- Indian industries often discharge untreated or partially treated water into nearby water bodies or rivers, leading to severe water pollution and water toxicity.
- In 1985, the Indian government launched the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) to clean up the Ganga river. In next three decades, GAP was extended first to other rivers in the Ganga basin, and later to rivers all over India.
- Currently, 190 towns in 20 states along 41 rivers are regulated under National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), India’s flagship water pollution clean-up policy.
India wants to clean its rivers by 2030, but it may remain a distant dream if the authorities continue with business as usual. The target seems difficult as the government’s own data reveals that the number of polluted stretches of rivers across the country has increased in the past few years, and the ambitious plan to clean the Ganga is yet to yield tangible results.