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High Arsenic Levels in Punjab Wells Raising Major Public-Health Concern

Important Facts:

The Indus Basin region covering areas of Indian as well as Pakistan side of Punjab shows “serious” levels of arsenic in groundwater, along with traces of fluoride and nitrate

Arsenic Pollution:

  • The high Arsenic levels are interestingly found to be confined to flood plains of River Ravi covering districts of Tarn Taran, Amristsar, Gurdaspur
  • Arsenic contamination in groundwater had so far been found to be particularly limited to West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and some surrounding areas in the Indo-Gangetic plains and Bangladesh’s Ganges-Brahmaputra basins.

Source of Arsenic:

  • Volcanic activity, the erosion of rocks and minerals, and forest fires are natural sources that can release arsenic into the environment
  • Agricultural applications, mining, and smelting also contribute to arsenic releases.
  • Surface arsenic-related pollutants enter the groundwater systems by gradually moving with the flow of groundwater from rains, melting of snow, etc. Drinking water, especially groundwater, is a major source of arsenic for most people.

Problem with Arsenic Pollution

  • High concentrations of arsenic do not impact environment, however, it has been found to find its way into the food chain by irrigating crops with high arsenic groundwater
  • The high levels were leading to slow poisoning of the body, potentially causing skin lesions, damage to the nervous system, stomach ailments, diabetes, renal (kidney) toxicity, cardiovascular disease, cancer cognitive development and increase deaths among young adults.
  • Exposure to arsenic has been shown to cause a severe disease of the blood vessels, which leads to gangrene, known as ‘black foot disease’

Fluoride Pollution:


Dissolution of fluoride-containing rock minerals is the source of naturally occurring fluorides in groundwater whereas application of phosphate fertilizers or sewage sludges or pesticides are the artificial source of fluoride in groundwater and surface water.

Natural processes such as soil-formation and Volcanic activity also releases gaseous fluorine into the groundwater.


Because of high fluoride content in water, children were facing severe dental and skeletal fluorosis at an early age, and Deficiency of fluoride in the diet causes dental caries and osteoporosis.

Nitrate Pollution:


When nitrogen fertilizers are used to enrich soils, nitrates may be carried by rain, irrigation and other surface waters through the soil into ground water. Human and animal wastes can also contribute to nitrate contamination of ground water.


  • The high nitrate levels were causing methemoglobinemia, gastric cancer, goitre, birth malformations, hypertension, and a drop-in blood pressure.
  • Blue baby syndrome can also be caused by nitrates in drinking water leading to methemoglobinemia

Reference :

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