Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Uranium content in Hyderabad's drinking water: Environmentalists blame Uranium mines in Nagarjunasagar for the presence of radioactive element

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 16: For parched Hyderabad, Krishna water is bliss. But what many Hyderabadis do not
know is that when they drink the "sweet and pure" Krishna water daily, they silently consume the
radioactive element, uranium.
The uranium intake through drinking water, mostly from the river Krishna, by people living in twin cities range from a low of 0.14 micro grams to 9.50 micro grams, according to the latest report by Nuclear Fuel Complex scientists. Environmentalists warn that the dissolved uranium levels in water will go up once the Uranium Corporation of India Limited takes up mining in Nagarjunasagar.
The intake may exceed the permissible levels of 15 micro grams per litre fixed by the World Health
Organisation. Incidentally, a few years ago, the maximum permissible level for dissolved uranium in
drinking water was just two micro grams per litre, but under pressure from developed nations, the world's
premier health body revised it upwards to 15.
Almost 60 per cent of the drinking water needs of twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad are met by
Krishna water drawn from Nagarjunasagar. The State government plans to tap more water from the river
ultimately taking it to 80 per cent.
The Health Physics Unit of the Nuclear Fuel Complex in the city collected a number of water samples from
municipal taps and bore wells in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Later, the NFC team of scientists
comprising Dr AY Balbudhe and Dr VD Puranik analysed the water samples using laser-induced
fluorimetry.
The analysis showed that the concentration of uranium varied from below detectable level (i.e 0.20 micro
gram) to 2.50 micro grams in tap water samples. In case of ground water, the uranium range was between
0.60 micro grams to 82 micro grams. The daily intake of uranium by drinking water pathway through tap
water for various age groups is found to vary from 0.14 to 9.50 micro grams.
As of now, there's no cause of concern for at least those who drink tap water. But with the Central
government eyeing on vast uranium resources in Nagarjunasagar belt, the dissolved uranium levels in
drinking water may go up crossing even the revised maximum permissible limits.
"Presence of uranium in ground water is understandable because of the local terrain. But the presence of
this highly radioactive element in tap water points to the Krishna water source. Mining of uranium in
Nagarjunasagar will lead to mixing up of more of this radioactive element into drinking water. As of now
there's no mechanism to filter out uranium from drinking water if it is present beyond a certain limit,"
argues Dr K Babu Rao, senior scientist and coordinator of National Alliance of People's Movements, State
chapter.
Though most of the uranium intake is lost through urine and faeces, a little quantity remains in the body and
this gradually adds up if the total daily intake of dissolved uranium through drinking water continues to be
high. Even the WHO's 15 microgram per litre is fixed for a person weighing 60 kgs. For children, the limit
comes down further.
According to environmentalists, uranium intake may not pose immediate health problems, but it will
certainly have long term impact on organs like kidneys. "One should not forget that uranium is not only a
heavy metal but also radioactive element. It thus poses two types of risk - heavy metal poisoning and
radioactivity. As a heavy metal uranium is as toxic as lead, cadmium and mercury," warns environment
activist V Satyanarayana.
Incidentally, when the State government admitted in the State Assembly a few years ago about the "high
presence" of uranium in water drawn from Osmansagar and Himayatsagar, which also supply drinking water to parts of the city, environmental groups collected samples and tested them in a lab at the National
Geophysical Research Institute.
"The water in these city lakes has far lower content of uranium than the government wanted us to believe.
By jacking up the uranium content in the city lakes, the government wanted to show us that mining of
uranium is safer in Nagarjunasagar. But what it had forgotten is that mining will affect the Krishna drinking
water being supplied to Hyderabad, and places downstream including Vijayawada," Dr Babu Rao pointed
out.

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