Friday, 9 March 2007

Uranium traces in Hyderabad drinking water

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, March 9: How potable is the "safe" drinking water drawn from Osmansagar and Himayatsagar which quench the thirst of 12 per cent of Hyderabadis?
Water in these two historic lakes is contaminated with the highly poisonous uranium, if recent studies are any indication. The uranium content in Himayatsagar is 7.8 micrograms per litre while it is 5.8 micrograms per litre in the case of Osmansagar. Even Nagarjunasagar, which meets the drinking water needs of a majority of areas in twin cities, is contaminated with two mgpl of uranium. This is as against the permissible limit of 2 mgpl of uranium in drinking water sources.
The highly polluted Hussainsagar, once a major drinking water source, contains 20 mgpl. The danger lurking at twin cities came into sharp focus during the Question Hour in the State Assembly when Mines and Geology Minister P Sabita Indra Reddy revealed these figures quoting a survey by the Atomic Energy Commission.
The Minister read out the statistics to support the decision of the Central government which granted permission to Uranium Corporation of India Limited to take up mining near Nagarjunasagar in Nalgonda district. "Even the drinking water sources in Hyderabad are contaminated with uranium. In fact, they contain more uranium traces than that of Nagarjunasagar. Most of the city lakes also have uranium content.
It is not surprising that Osmansagar and Himayatsagar contain uranium content more than the permissible limits since their catchment area is scattered with agricultural fields where phosphate fertilisers are used indiscriminately. Phosphate fertilisers often contain high amounts of natural uranium, because the mineral material from which they are made is typically high in uranium.
The average daily intake of uranium from food or water ranges from 0.07 to 1.1 micrograms per day. But Hyderabadis, who drink water from Himayatsagar take uranium 700 per cent in excess. It is about 500 per cent excess in case of Osmansagar.
Explaining the reasons for little effect of uranium on Hyderabadis, medical experts say that about 99 per cent of the uranium ingested in food or water is flushed out through faeces. Only one per cent enters the blood but even this absorbed uranium is removed by kidneys and excreted through urine within a few days. A small amount of uranium in the bloodstream will deposit in a person's bones, where it will remain for years.
The CPI and the BJP staged a walkout in the State Assembly in protest against the grant of mining permission to UCIL. Other opposition parties like the Telugu Desam, CPM, TRS and MIM also lodged their protest and demanded that the project with withdrawn.
Sabita Indra Reddy, however, allayed the fears of Opposition parties saying that though mining had been going on in Jaduguda for the past 48 years no cases of uranium poisoning were reported. Even Supreme Court dismissed a petition after it found that there was no case in it.
"We have the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad. It is there since 1965. But there have been no cases of uranium poisoning. The country has to generate more atomic power. It is only three per cent at present," she pointed out.
The State government sent a study team of Jaduguda and it found that the radiation was of the order of 1.72 to 3.5 milli rad which is quite safe for human beings.
The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board had felt that the Uranium Project at Nagarjunasagar would not be able to implement the provisions of the Environment Management Plan submitted by it. The APPCB also reported that monitoring of environment pollution on day to day basis would be very difficult in view of sensitive location of the project and since the entire mining activity will be taking place in the catchment area of Nagarjunasagar.
The APPCB did not issue its consent to the project and referred the matter to the State government, which forwarded the proposal to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Central government has fixed 38 stringent conditions for UCIL to start the project.

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