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More uranium trouble for Punjab

Written By Krishna on Saturday, March 24, 2012 | 12:04 PM

The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has found traces of uranium in groundwater in regions beyond Malwa. The government has confirmed that traces of radioactive elements were detected in samples collected from 13 new districts, including Tarn Taran, Moga, Barnala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib, Mohali, Ropar, Nawanshehar, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Pathankot.

Reaching beyond established problem areas of Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot and Ferozepur, BARC collected 92 samples from 13 new districts under a collaborative project with Guru Nanak Dev University. The uranium content in these samples varied between 0.1 and 153 ppb (parts per billion), Minister of state in PMO V Narayanasamy told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question by nominated member HK Dua yesterday.

Narayanasamy, in fact, urged Punjab to conduct epidemiological studies at its population-based cancer registry in Patiala to ascertain whether presence of uranium in sub-soils could be a cause for high prevalence of cancer in the region.

Though BARC has not carried out studies related to high prevalence of cancer in the region, Narayanasamy struck an assuring note by saying that several studies focusing on health effects had been carried out in Finland among people who use drilled wells as source of drinking water, “having uranium concentrations much higher than that observed in the Malwa region”.

“These include case-cohort studies of uranium intake and risks of leukaemia, stomach and urinary tract cancers as well as chemical toxicity studies of uranium intake and renal and bone effects. Nevertheless, none of the human studies reported so far has shown a clear association between chronic uranium exposure and cancer risk, clinical symptoms, or toxicity,” the minister declared.

Gopal Krishna of the Toxics Watch Alliance, however, is certain that exposure to uranium at every level is unsafe.

“Uranium is an endocrine-disrupting chemical and populations exposed to environmental uranium must be followed for increased risk of fertility problems and reproductive cancers,” says Krishna.

In 2009, BARC, in collaboration with GNDU, had collected water samples from Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot and Ferozepur, detecting “elevated” levels of uranium concentration ranging from 2.1 to 644 ppb in 520 samples.

Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

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