Not just groundwater, fluoride has poisoned agricultural soil, crops in Bengal

What is the news?

A new study has pointed out that crops and vegetables that use fluoride-contaminated groundwater have been contributing to an increase in consumption of fluoride among locals in Bengal.

The study investigated the magnitude of fluoride contamination in agricultural land soil and food crops in two districts of Western Bihar, as well as its adverse impact on the health of locals.

Background

West Bengal has been fighting with groundwater contamination for decades. About 12% of the population in eight of the state’s 23 districts is impacted by water contaminated by fluoride. The contamination is higher in western parts of the state.

What are the findings of the study? 

Firstly, farmers in the investigated districts use groundwater contaminated by fluoride to cultivate crops during summers.

Secondly, the concentration of fluoride in groundwater is above the permissible level that contributes to the accumulation of fluoride in agricultural soil and crops. It is leading to increase in consumption of fluoride among locals.  

Thirdly, accumulation was higher in leafy and non-leafy vegetables than in pulses and cereals from both districts. 

Fourthly, it was also found that children were the most vulnerable to fluoride contamination due to their low body weight.   

What are the three stages to fluoride toxicity? 

First, the groundwater used for agricultural purposes deposits a good amount of fluoride in the soil.  

Second, this fluoride is absorbed by crops. 

Third, it enters the food chain system, causing harm to the human body. 

What are the harmful effects of the Fluoride contamination? 

Fluoride is an essential micronutrient and has both beneficial and detrimental effects on human health. However, exposure to high levels of fluoride causes dental fluorosis, skeletal fluorosis and non-skeletal fluorosis

Fluoride is not carcinogenic like arsenic. It attacks the calcium in the body. It leads to painful and stiff joints. 

Ligaments calcification, liver and kidney dysfunction, nerve weakness, developmental disorder, organ tissue damage, bending of legs etc., are some commonly seen health issues.  

As a result of fluoride contamination, pregnant women show a lower birth rate. 

What are the methods to control fluoride contamination? 

Nano technology and electro-coagulation methods can be used to filter out the contaminated water.

Rainwater harvesting is also useful as it will lead to less dependence on groundwater. 

Water pipelines need to be installed in affected areas to provide large scale water supply. 

Constant monitoring of the fluoride-endemic regions is needed.

Proper watershed management through treatment of surface water is another solution. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Not just groundwater, fluoride has poisoned agricultural soil, crops in Bengal” published in the Down to earth on 13th September 2021. 

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