Monday, 16 October 2017

Slow poison: 80% of New Delhi’s tap water has plastic toxins

Slow poison: 80% of New Delhi’s tap water has plastic toxins

NEW DELHI: More than 80% of New Delhi's tap water is contaminated by plastic microfibres, new research has shown. This is the third highest contamination rate in the world after the US (New York and Washington DC) and Beirut, Lebanon. These findings are part of a study conducted after testing 150 samples of tap water collected by news website Orb Media from five continents.

Though many in Delhi's well-off circles do not use tap water for drinking, large swathes of the capital's population have no access to safe drinking water.

Research found the US had the highest contamination at 94%. Plastic fibres were found in samples taken from various sites, including the Congress buildings and Trump Tower in New York. Beirut was marginally behind at 93% followed by India at 82%. European nations, including UK, Germany and France, had the lowest contamination rate of 72%.

These microscopic fragments enter the water system in several ways, from synthetic fibre clothing, tyre dust and microbeads. Most of these are believed to originate from clothes, upholstery and carpets. Washing machines and dryers add to the problem. According to a Guardian report, a UK study found that each cycle of a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic particles.

Scientists suspect plastic can leach toxins once inside the human body. Sherri Ann Mason, an expert on plastic pollution at the State University of New York in Freedonia, who supervised Orb's study, said: ``We have enough data from looking at wildlife and the impact that it's having on wildlife to be concerned. If it's impacting them, then how do we think it's not going to somehow impact us?"

Commenting on the extent of pollution, Mason told TOI that the findings had surprised her. "Study after study has indicated the contamination of every compartment of our environment. As plastic is so prominent in the world's water in general, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find it in our drinking or tap water, but I thought with our filtration methods the particles would be removed." 

About 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually in the world. While scientists have focused their attention on oceans and rivers, studying plastic pollution's impact on marine life, seabirds and the human food chain, the effect of microplastic's presence in the human body has still not been researched enough. 

The latest study shows that both developed and developing economies appear to be battling with the problem. Mason said, ``I expected that developed nations would show less contamination than developing, but it was quite the opposite. I really think this is simply owing to the prominence of plastic pollution within the environment. As plastic is a ubiquitous contaminant we can't expect to be able to filter ourselves out of this problem.'' 



80% of India’s surface water may be polluted, report by international body says

NEW DELHI: Even as India is making headlines with its rising air pollution levels, the water in the country may not be any better. An alarming 80% of India's surface water is polluted, a latest assessment by WaterAid, an international organization working for water sanitation and hygiene, shows.

The report, based on latest data from the ministry of urban development (2013), census 2011 and Central Pollution Control Board, estimates that 75-80% of water pollution by volume is from domestic sewerage, while untreated sewerage flowing into water bodies including rivers have almost doubled in recent years.

This in turn is leading to increasing burden of vector borne diseases, cholera, dysentery, jaundice and diarrhea etc. Water pollution is found to be a major cause for poor nutritional standards and development in children also.

Between 1991 and 2008, the latest period for which data is available, flow of untreated sewerage has doubled from around 12,000 million litres per day to 24,000 million litres per day in Class I and II towns.

The database defines Class I towns as those with a population of more than 1 lakh, whereas towns with population ranging between 50,000 to 1 lakh are classified as Class II.

The report, titled 'Urban WASH: An Assessment on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Policies and Programmes at the National and State Level', is likely to be released next week.

According to the report, inadequate sanitation facilities, poor septage management and a near absence of sanitation and waste water policy framework are primary reasons responsible for the groundwater and surface water pollution in the country.

Experts say there are glaring gaps not just in treatment of sewerage water but also in case of water treatment itself, used in supply of drinking water as well as for kitchen use etc.

"Though there are standards, the enforcement is very low. Even the amount of water, which is treated, is also not treated completely or as per standards. And there is no civic agency accountable or punishable for that because we do not have stringent laws," says Puneet Srivastava, manager policy- Urban WASH & Climate Change at WaterAid India.

Findings of the report show nearly 17 million urban households, accounting for over 20% of total 79 million urban households, lack adequate sanitation.

"Among those with access to improved sanitation facilities, a vast majority relies on on-site sanitation systems, such as septic tanks and pit latrines. Today, these septic tanks and pit latrines have become a major contributor to groundwater and surface water pollution in many cities in the country," the report said.

However, the report acknowledges that India has of late started focusing on the problem of septage management, which is one of the most immediately implementable solutions to address urban waste water.

But there is an urgent need to focus on infrastructure as well as enforcement, says Srivastava.

"Most of the sewerage treatment plants are performing under their capacity as these utilities do not have enough money to run full capacity," says Srivastava pointing at dearth of human resource, improper management etc.

Estimates show there were 269 sewage treatment plants across the country, with 211 in Class I cities, 31 in Class II towns, and 27 in other smaller towns.

"At the policy level, sanitation was not prioritized until the early 1990s and became an important policy concern only around 2008. It was not until the inception of the National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP) in 2008, that urban sanitation was allotted focused attention at the national level," the report said. 



Drinking water from sewage becomes reality


  1. An a Bengaluru-based scientist has invented the 'Boom Tube Resonator'
  2. It recovers water fit for drinking and gives high-value fertilizer as a byproduct
  3. It uses no chemicals or micro-organisms
BENGALURU: Recycling is so yesterday. With the drinking water crisis becoming more acute, the world is looking at recovering used water. An invention by a Bengaluru-based scientist has seen his campus recover 10,000 litres of water from sewage every day and use it for drinking too.

Dr Rajah Vijay Kumar's invention - the Boom Tube Resonator - recovers water fit for drinking and gives high-value fertilizer as a byproduct. It uses no chemicals or micro-organisms.

Kumar's team has received queries from Doha and Oman to recover 3 lakh litres per day, and from Malaysia to salvage 10 lakh litres. "Singapore is interested in a large-scale project," he told TOI.

Recovering water from sewage wasn't a possibility until recently. Facing one of the worst drinking water crises, India may need to consider this for a better future. The country's groundwater table is depleting and surface water undrinkable.

India consumes 693 billion cubic metres of water a year and it's pegged to increase to 942 billion cubic metres by 2025 and 1,422 billion cubic metres by 2050. Water is rarely considered for reuse; segregation of sewage into clean water is uncommon. India discharges 38,400 million cubic metres of sewage annually, enough for the country if recovered. "We have excess water today," Kumar said as he sipped the recovered water. "It meets the drinking water standard (ISI 505)," he added.

Water turns sewage when mixed with excreta, urine, soaps or detergents. Some of these dissolve, the rest remain suspended. Very fine particles in sewage remain in motion due to electrostatic charge (often negative), which causes them to repel each other. Once their charge is neutralized, the particles collide and combine together.High-intensity wave : The Boom Tube Resonator applies this principle. It uses high-intensity shortwave to neutralize the fine particles present in sewage.


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