Guwahati: Fourteen of the 34 districts in Assam are affected by either arsenic or fluoride contamination, informed Rattan Lal Kataria, the Minister of State for Jal Shakti.
Kataria was responding to a question by Assam MP Badruddin Ajmal in Lok Sabha on Thursday.
According to the data presented in the House, total of 1,247 habitations in 12 districts are affected by arsenic. The highest is in Nalbari district (454), followed by Baksa (343) and then Barpeta district (171).
Meanwhile, 12 habitations in four districts are impacted by fluoride contamination.
Apart from Assam, groundwater arsenic contamination is common across the Northeast, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the Minister for Jal Shakti, informed the Rajya Sabha earlier this month.
On steps taken by the Government to provide clean drinking water to the people in the affected areas, the minister said, “Government of India in partnership with states, is implementing Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to provide potable tap water supply to every rural household in the country by
2024. Under JJM, while planning water supply schemes to provide tap water supply to households, priority is given to quality–affected habitations.”
Further, allocation of funds under JJM to Assam has been increased to Rs 1,407.07 Crore in 2020-21 from Rs 694.34 Crore in 2019-20.
The minister added, “In March 2017, to provide potable drinking water to 27,544 Arsenic/ Fluoride-affected habitations in the country, including 3,881 habitations of Assam,National Water Quality SubMission (NWQSM) was launched, which has now been subsumed under JJM. For this purpose, Rs. 530.96 crore has been released to Assam.”
Kataria said that since planning, implementation and commissioning of piped water supply schemes takes time, “as an interim measure, States/ UTs have been advised to install community water purification plants (CWPPs) in affected habitations to provide potable water to every household at the rate of 8–10 litre per capita per day to meet their drinking and cooking requirements.”
Prolonged arsenic contamination can lead to chronic poisoning, causing diseases like cancer, bronchitis, diabetes, bone marrow depression, and cardiovascular diseases.
World Health Organisation (WHO) states that a maximum of 10 ppb (part per billion) or 0.01 mg/litre of arsenic, and 1 mg/litre of fluoride in drinking water is safe. However, the global health body also states that the presence of arsenic even as low as 0.17 ppb can cause cancer.
Consumption of arsenic in drinking water has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In utero and early childhood, exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults as stated by WHO.