Population pressure, mad race for so called development and above all the threat of various environmental hazards looming large over the masses in the country has created a 'catch-22' like situation. Newspapers and magazines are replete with stories of anthropogenic hazards, like trees being felled, discharge of toxins in the rivers, improper land-use leading to landslides etc. Natural hazards like earthquake, landslide, flood, drought, cyclones etc take their annual toll. However, toxicity of groundwater is a serious hazard. The toxins surreptitiously enter the human bodies through drinking water and start showing their affects soon.
Large masses in our country are facing the perils of fluoride through drinking water. The 5th Edition of Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products says that Fluoride is an acute toxin with a rating slightly higher than lead. It is a toxic waste and one of the most bone-seeking elements known to mankind. Fluoride makes the bones brittle and dental enamel porous. It is such a substance that almost half of each day's fluoride intake is retained and gets absorbed in the bones and teeth. It is estimated that a daily ingestion of 2mg fluoride would result in crippling skeletal fluorosis after 40 years. Children and old persons are the worst affected. Dr. Gerald Cox of the Mellon Institute in the United States, found in 1938 that 1.0 parts per million of fluorine in water prevented dental caries, while more than 1.5ppm would cause mottled teeth. The Bureau of Indian Standards has prescribed a norm of 1-1.5mg per liter fluoride in water. Fluoride less than or more than this can cause dental decay and mottled teeth. A higher quantity of fluoride in drinking water causes several diseases, like, Osteoporosis and Arthritis, brittle bones, Cancer, Infertility in women, Brain damage, Alzheimer disease and Thyroid disorders.
Dental caries, Yellow Teeth, twisted limbs etc are becoming alarmingly increased amongst people of all age groups. The presence of the deadly poison Fluoride in drinking water is behind this malaise. Right from north to south lakhs of people are suffering from the ill effects of fluoride. In a recent publication of the Geological Survey of India it has been stated that population in Fazilka and Jalalabad in the border district of Ferozepur in Punjab; parts of Gurgaon, Rewari, Mahendergarh, Hisar, Fatehabad and Faridabad in Haryana; Unnao, Raebareli and Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh; Sidhi district in Madhya Pradesh; Beed district in Maharashtra; Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh and Dindigul district in Tamilnadu is the worst affected.
Recent studies have shown that the fluoride content in the tube-well water in Fazilka is 6 to 12 mg per liter against the norm of 1 to 1.5 mg per liter. Almost 70% population of Fazilka is suffering from dental decay. The scene is no better in Jalalabad. Surface water is less contaminated. Tube-wells pumping out water from the depths of the substratum contain the high fluoride content. The affluent farmers drink 'mineral water'. The irony is that unscrupulous elements have started bottling canal water and sell it as mineral water. The fluoride toxicity in the selected areas of Haryana is taking its toll. A large chunk of population has developed 'Yellow Teeth' due to the presence of 7 to 8 mg per liter of fluoride in ground water. Cases of arthritis in younger age group are on the increase in Haryana. Unnao and Rae Bareilly districts of Uttar Pradesh are not lagging behind. A fluoride content of 2.9 to 15mg per liter water in these areas has caused crippled a large chunk of population. Fluorisis in dental and skeletal forms is rampant in these districts. Locally known as 'lunj punj' to the people of Unnao district has become their fate accompli. It is common to see toothless villagers with twisted limbs. A village Siraha Khera in Unnao is facing a social boycott. No one marries girls from the village and no wants his daughter to marry there. Even animals and crops are affected in these areas due to fluoride contaminated water.
A redeeming feature is that in all the above areas only the groundwater from depths is fluoride rich. Water from surface sources like the rivers, canals and ponds has normal fluoride content. Situation in Sonbhadra and Sidhi is somewhat different. There the fluoride content is less than 1.0mg per liter in ground water. A study has shown that the kids in this region are suffering more from dental caries. Of course the adults too are not spared either by the toxin. Fluorisis in some or other form has spread in Beed and Dindigul districts, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu respectively.
India is a vast country with varied geographical and geological set up. The causes of fluoridation of water in these diverse areas are natural and man made both. Fluoride bearing minerals present in the rocks and soil get leached out due to various natural processes. They enrich the fluoride content of groundwater. In the Deccan Plateau, some scientists' postulate that during volcanism that took place millions of years ago, the gaseous fluorine entered groundwater there. This water which is being tapped from deeper levels is fluoride rich. It is not possible to control fluoridation of groundwater through natural causes. What is alarming is contamination of groundwater by the industries. Chemical industries, alkali and chloride producing industries, brick kilns, aluminum, and steel product industries dump their waste either into rivers or into groundwater. In Faridabad area it is reported that such industries bore holes in the ground and inject their waste into these. Contaminated phosphatic fertilizers are also a source of enrichment of fluoride in groundwater. In Unnao district alone the use of such fertilizers has risen by 5 lakh metric tons during the past decade.
The problem of groundwater contamination is gargantuan. Unless fast and determined steps are taken we are heading for a big water crisis. The first step required is to identify and if required seal off the contaminated tube-wells. Simultaneously the local population must be provided safe drinking water. Public awareness is crucial. The gullible illiterate masses will keep on drinking water from the State drilled tube-wells. In the affected areas a massive campaigning would be needed. In the endemic areas a higher intake of calcium and Vitamin C is required. Since the poor masses can not afford them, the responsibility of free distribution has to be shouldered by the State. Fluoride concentration can be reduced by artificial recharge techniques, like flooding of groundwater by mixing surface water. Drinking water has a direct impact on human health. The purity of water has to be maintained at any cost. The affluent class may survive on Mineral water, but the tooth less and crippled masses will suffer. Ultimately the masses matter, because they are the voters and they are the soldiers too. Are we going to run the largest democracy in the World on toothless voters and safeguard our frontiers with crippled soldiers!