As number of victims of a mysterious outbreak in Eluru city of West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh continues to rise, the Andhra Pradesh government has formed a 21-member multidisciplinary committee, headed by state chief secretary, to probe the matter. The panel has been asked to investigate possible reasons and suggest remedial steps to stop the outbreak that has affected 609 people so far. Of these, 32 are currently undergoing treatment in hospital.
Amid all this, a letter from a retired bureaucrat to Andhra CM, suspecting 'lead' coated PVC pipes used for drinking water supplies as a possible reason for the outbreak, has surprised many.
IAS Dr EAS Sarma (Retd), who held senior positions in Andhra government and also served as Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministries of Power and Finance, in a letter has enclosed a detailed report by Vikas EcoTech Ltd. It explains the extent to which lead has been found in excess of the "safe" levels in drinking water supply across 26 cities of India. It also highlights causes and adverse impacts due to the use of PVC pipes on people's health.
"According to the analysis carried out by the officially recognised Quality Council of India (QCI), 33% of the water samples taken in 26 cities in India have indicated high levels of lead. Lead coated PVC pipes used extensively in urban drinking water systems seem to be the major contributor to lead poisoning of water. The water samples thus analysed indicated lead levels to be in excess of the Indian norm of 50 parts per billion, which is in itself a questionable one compared to the WHO norm of 10 parts per billion. Excess lead in the human body can cause neurological problems of the kind observed in Eluru," Sarma told India Today. He also claims that discarded vehicle batteries entering drinking water supply systems might have also caused lead poisoning.
Research suggests an excess of lead -- more than 10 microgrammes -- in water can have harmful effects, especially on children, causing serious learning problems and over 70 different body ailments.
The Visakhapatnam-based former bureaucrat, known for his activism, urged municipal bodies to take immediate measures to check cleanliness at freshwater sources that cater to water supplies. He also suggested minimising the PVC pipe use and frequent and well-designed sample analysis of municipal tap water points. He also says that authorities should also check the presence of other heavy metals, including zinc, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, etc, in water. Notably, the Visakhapatnam port area has many coal dumps, where radioactive isotopes of Uranium and Thorium could also be present.
Other issues raised by the bureaucrat include use of pesticides, large scale garbage dumping near the catchment of Mudasarlova reservoir GVMC in Visakhapatnam and pollution in Meghadri Gedda reservoir that supplies water to Visakhapatnam city.
Meanwhile, 37 more cases of the mysterious illness were reported in Eluru on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The areas where new people reported sick are Tangellamudi, East Street, West Street, Sankaramatam. These areas have a collective population of over 3 lakh.
Also, a two-member World Health Organisation team has reached the Andhra city. It held a virtual meeting with Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and directed officials to find out the exact cause behind the outbreak. Experts from AIIMS-Mangalagiri, NIN (National Institute of Nutrition, India), CCMB (Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and IICT ( Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad) also took part in the meet. The WHO experts are also surveying the impacted areas and have assessed health details of the impacted people.