Kerala, August 2007
A Poisoned River Means a Dying Population
This file presents a major issue regarding various aspects of river pollution, especially River Periyar in the South Indian State of Kerala. The write-up is based on the findings of two major studies which is acknowledged in the notes.
The tiny South Indian State Kerala is one among the most thickly populated regions in the world and the growth rate amounts to 14 % per decade. Consequently the rivers of Kerala have been increasingly polluted from the industrial and domestic waste and from the pesticides and fertilizer used in agriculture. Industries discharge hazardous pollutants like phosphates, sulphides, ammonia, fluorides, heavy metals and insecticides into the downstream reaches of the river. The major rivers namely Periyar and Chaliyar are apt examples for the pollution due to industrial effluents. It is estimated that nearly 260 million liters of industrial effluents reach the Periyar river daily from the Kochi industrial belt.
The river Periyar, the longest river of the state (PWD, 1974; CESS, 1984) is considered to be the life line of Central Kerala. It originates from the Sivagiri peaks (1800m MSL) of Sundaramala in Tamil Nadu. The total length is about 300 Kms (244 Kms in Kerala) with a catchment area of 5396 Sq. Kms (5284 Sq. Kms in Kerala). The total annual of flow is estimated to be 11607 cubic meters. During its journey to the Arabian Sea at Cochin the river is enriched with water of minor tributaries like Muthayar, Perunthuraiar, Chinnar, Cheruthony, Kattappanayar and Edamalayar at different junctures. Periyar has been performing a pivotal role in shaping the economic prospects of Kerala, as it helps in power generation, domestic water supply, irrigation, tourism, industrial production, collection of various inorganic resources and fisheries. However, as in the case of many other inland water bodies, River Periyar is gradually undergoing eco-degradation throughout its course of flow due to various anthropogenic stresses, which include indiscriminate deforestation, domestic-agricultural-industrial water pollution, excessive exploitation of resources, large scale sand mining and various interferences in the flow of water.
Angamaly to Kochi come under the most industrialized zone of the Periyar river basin. There are over 50 large and medium industries and over 2500 small scale industries in this region. The southern branch of Marthandapuzha which cater to the needs of these industries is estimated to have a lean water flow of 8200 cum/sec which the monsoon flow is calculated as 150-250 cum/sec. The industries located in Edayar–Eloor area consumes about 189343 cum per day water from the day and discharge about 75% as used water along with large quantity of effluents and pollutants. The major types of these industries are fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and allied industries, petroleum refining and heavy metal processing, radioactive mineral processing, rubber processing units, animal bone processing units, battery manufacturers, mercury products, acid manufacturers, pigment and latex producers etc. The wide spectra of pollutants that adversely affect the natural environmental quality of the water of the river include toxic and hazardous materials such as heavy metals, phenolics, hydrocarbons, pesticides, radionuclides, ammonia, phosphates, domestic and untreated waste water.
Pollution Status Assessments
Sources of pollution in Periyar river can be categorized as
Sewage and garbage.
A pioneer study on pollution aspects of Periyar river by Paul and Pillai (1976) provides valuable baseline information towards this direction. The study report discusses various important parameters like river discharges at different points, influence of tidal influx in the lower reaches, effluent dilution due to discharge of fresh water from unpolluted area, distribution of radioactivity in sediment-water-biota, concentration of other pollutants like heavy metals, inorganic compounds etc. Jayapalan et al (1976) explored some aspects of physico-chemical and biological variations of Periyar water due to the effluent discharge from the industrial complex FACT. Remani et al (1980) analysed the chemical composition of sediments of Cochin backwaters in relation to the pollution. Further Remani et al (1983) listed the indicator organisms of pollution in the same water body. Fluctuations in the spatial distribution of phytoplankton in the affected zones of Periyar river in relation to certain physico-chemical parameters have been reported by Joseph et al (1984). Joy (1989) made a detailed assessment of the water quality of Periyar river and observed growth response of phytoplankton community so as to predict the probable effect of continued discharge of complex effluents from industries on such organisms. The two major phases of this attempt was 1) Field observation of hydrological factors and its correlation to standing stock of phytoplankton and 2) Algal assays on pure cultures using industrial effluents.
The industrial belt of Eloor in Kerala is one of the world’s ‘top toxic hot spots’, according to international environment group Greenpeace. Unchecked pollution in the area, says an elaborate study conducted by Greenpeace, has led to people in Eloor near Kochi suffering from higher rates of death and disease. Greenpeace holds the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) that has been manufacturing pesticides at its Eloor plant responsible for making the industrial village a toxic hotspot.
According to an epidemiological study that Greenpeace conducted at Eloor, an island in the Periyar river, unchecked pollution from HIL has resulted in diseases like cancer, congenital birth defects, bronchitis, asthma, allergic dermatitis and stomach ulcers in the local population.
Greenpeace collected samples of water and sediments from an adjacent creek and soil from the nearby wetlands. Its detailed analysis found that the water at Eloor contained 100 organic compounds that included DDT and its metabolites, endosulfan and several isomers like hexachlorocylcohexane, a persistent pesticide. It says the chances of the residents of Eloor inhabitants contracting cancer are 2.85 times higher than similar toxic areas in India.
It said children face 2.63 times higher risk of malformation due to congenital and chromosomal aberrations. Chances of death due to an accident are 2.7 times higher. Chances that children may die due to birth defects have increased 3.8 times. Death due to bronchitis at Eloor is up by 3.4 times. Death due to asthma is up by 2.2 times, the study stated.
Saying that the waterways Eloor, the Periyar river and the adjoining villages are under the serious threat from Hindustan Insecticides Ltd. The study says that cleaning up the Periyar river and the waterways is the only means to save the people of Eloor from a disaster.
Nature of Water Pollution in Kerala
The major water quality problem associated with rivers of Kerala is bacteriological pollution. The assessment of river such as Chalakudy, Periyar, Muvattupuzha, Meenachil, Pamba and Achenkovil indicates that the major quality problem is due to bacteriological pollution and falls under B or C category of CPCB classification. There are local level quality problems faced by all rivers especially due to dumping of solid waste, bathing and discharge of effluents.
With regard to groundwater, water quality characteristics of wells in Kerala are found to be affected by chemical and biological contaminants. The ground water quality problems in the coastal areas are mainly because of the presence of excess chloride. The chloride concentration >250mb/l was detected in the well water samples of Azhicode, Kakkathuruthy, Edathinjil, Kadalundi, Chellanum, Nallalam, Mankombu and Haripad. in Alappuzha district, and fluoride concentration in the pumping wells was also observed to be high. In midland region, with regard to ionic concentration, the concentration of flouride iron and chloride were found to be on the higher side. The flouride content was observed to be beyond the permissible limit of 1 mg/1.Deep wells in Chittur taluk and Knajikod areas of Palakkad district are found to contain fluoride concentration greater than 1mg/l.
Open wells of Kerala are under the threat of bacteriological comtamination. About 60% of the population in the State relies on ground water for drinking. Studies have shown that faucal contamination is present in 90% of drinking water wells. The open character of the wells, conventional maintenance habits, use of buckets and rope to draw water, kitchen wastes and pit latrines with average family load factor (5 members) at a distance of less than 5 meters from wells are some of the factors contributing to the bacteriological contamination. Ground water contamination due to industrial pollution has been reported from places of Kochi (eastern part of Aluva), Palakkad and some parts of Kollam and Kozhikode.
1. Greenpeace Report on Pollution in Periyar - Aditi Wanchoo, Greenpeace India
2. Status Report on Periyar - krpcds.org/report/Joseph%20M.L.pdf.