Lab Tests

My team and I were the field workers who initiated the study in India and I am the person who has been responsible for both the collection of the hair as well as urine samples from this project over a period of 14 months in the project in Faridkot, Punjab.    I have extensive knowledge about the project where we collected the samples and know the geography of the region fairly well. 

Although a final report on this study is about to be published by Micro Trace Minerals’ Dr. Eleanore Blaurock-Busch (the laboratory who donated their time and effort to analyze the samples) - I wish to comment on some of the points offered as fact in your Journal Vol. 34, No. 2, 2009, 102-5(i), which are incorrect and foster confusion or even apathy with regards to the presence of high levels of uranium found in the damaged children of Faridkot.

What I wish to comment on is that the children’s collective hair samples showed not only high uranium, but also high levels of virtually every other toxic metal as well as significantly disturbed mineral and trace element levels. 

Out of 143 hair samples taken the following trends emerged:

  • 109/143 children high in aluminium in hair (implicated in seizure activity, ataxia, speech disorders, neuro-fibrillary tangles)
  •   14/143 children high in cadmium in hair (strongly implicated in kidney damage)
  •   70/143 children high in lead in hair (implicated in cognitive impairment)
  •   80/143 children high manganese in hair (implicated in movement disorders, cardiovascular function as well as gastrointestinal tract, kidney, liver, skin and blood and prostrate)
  •   73/143 children high magnesium in hair (disturbed magnesium!)
  •   27/143 children high in silver (highly oxidative metal)
  •   84/143 children high in strontium in hair (associated with tooth decay in humans and rickets in animals, bone deformity in pigs and posterior paralysis)
  •     9/143 children high in tin in hair (associated with growth disturbances, reduced hemoglobin in animals; it influences the metabolism of several other minerals; influence on the cytochrome P450 mediated drug metabolism pathway)
  •  113/143 children high in uranium in hair (associated with kidney damage due to chemical toxicity, lung cancer due to radiation by its progeny and affects reproduction and the developing fetus)(ii).

 

Your statement under the heading “High levels of Uranium found in Faridkot children” on page 103-5 reads: ‘Of the 149 children studied, 53 showed more traces of uranium is disturbing. 

May I ask:  “More than what?”

This author’s statement suggests that a mere 35% of the children sampled had elevated levels of uranium.  This is not true:   In actual fact a total of 143 samples of hair were taken of children between the ages of 5 and 12 years and of these 143 children, 113 of the children had elevated levels of uranium in their hair. 

The article uses the phrase “more traces”, but in some cases the level of uranium in specific children was more than 44 times higher than the reference range – that can hardly be depicted as a mere “trace” of uranium. 

On average the level was 2 – 8 times higher than the reference range for uranium in hair in the general population.  These levels correspond closely to what Sengupta and Mandal (2005)(iii) reported with regards to the contamination of ground water because of thermal plant fly-ash in Kolaghat in West Bengal, when they stated: “The dose, emitted from the ash pond to the surrounding (area) is about three times higher than the world average of 51 nGy-1”.

The number of 113 children with elevated levels of uranium in that one Centre for Disabled Children in Faridkot constitutes no less than 79% of that specific population of very ill, deformed and physically as well as mentally disabled children we sampled.

I am deeply concerned about the under-reporting of these facts. I hereby request that a prestigious journal like yours records the necessary corrections – especially as such reporting on critical facts will have an impact on the lives of children. 

As it is currently reported it leaves much room for governmental departments and industry to skirt around the issue of high uranium in this population of children and rather than spur them to action it has the potential to lull them into a false sense of security.  Some have even denied in the press that the exceptionally high levels of metals found in these children could be a contributing factor to their disabilities.

In this study, 27/113 children, who showed high uranium levels in their hair samples, live in the city of Bathinda, where the Guru Nanak Dev and Lehra Mohabbat Thermal Power Plants are.  These thermal plants produce high quantities of fly-ash from the burning of coal.  31% (almost a third) of the children tested (who are afflicted with the most severe neurological and cognitive conditions) come directly from a radius of less than 15 kms of this power plant.  More than 70% of India’s electricity generation is produced by coal-based thermal power plants(iv).  The environmental impact of the coal industry and thermal power plants in Punjab can and should not be minimized or under-estimated. 

Mishra(v) (2004) points out: “the problems for the future are formidable from ecological, radio-ecological and pollution viewpoints.”

 Singh, Kumar and Kumar(vi) reported on how combustion of coal frees nearly every naturally occurring element, including radio-active isotopes, into the biosphere, mainly because of the high coal-ash load generated during such combustion processes (between 55 – 60%) (Mishra(vii), 2004).  Singh et al(viii) (2004) pointed out how the accumulated fly-ash load contaminated ground and surface water. 

Punjab is irrigated by an elaborate network of canals and waterways staring up in Himachal Pradesh in the Himalaya Mountain range at the Bhakra and Nangal Dams which feed the Nangal Hydel Channel.  Each of these has the capacity to carry the element-dense waters from village to village, to towns and cities many kilometers away from a coal-fired power plant. 

In a study done at the Borako Thermal Power Station by Singh et al.(ix) (2004) it was found that the leaching study of coal ashes over a 300 day period showed that especially Ca, Na, K, Fe, Pb and Cd as well as other dissolved ions leached at significant concentration levels.

Mukherjee & Zevenhoven(x) quantified the fly-ash load across the Indian subcontinent and stated that as much as 80 – 90 million tons of fly ashes are generated from the 85 existing coal-based thermal plants across India.  Of particular interest is that coal-ash also contains Mercury, which is highly toxic to all life – humans as well as aquatic fauna.  These authors point out that India has become synonymous with being a “dumping ground for mercury”.  Other literature reviews indicate that mercury from fly-ashes is negligible to zero, but that the wet and dry deposition of Hg from the flue gases (i.e. living within the “stack shadow”, is problematic(xi) ,(xii).  Hence children and their families who live in and around Bathinda are much more at risk from mercury than those children whose families don’t.

A study of the significant radioactive contamination of soil around coal-fired thermal power plants by Papp et al(xiii) confirmed that there was significant radioactive contamination of soil around a coal-fired thermal power plant in Hungary.  They pointed out that the contamination was a direct result of fly-ash fallout.  They state: “Inside the town are 4.7 times higher, on average, (235U and 226Ra )… in the top (0-5cm depth) layer of soil in public areas…. Than those in the uncontaminated deeper layers, which means there is about 108Bq kg(-1) surplus activity concentration above the geological background.”

These carefully researched findings are in sharp contrast to the off-the-cuff statements made by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to the media that the children who were deformed in Faridkot and surroundings were such because of genetic reasons and that they were not suffering from birth defects due to uranium toxicity/radiation, after a brief, one-day visit to Faridkot, and the taking of a small number of samples in the Centre. 

 The Tribune News Service(xiv) reported in an article entitled “Experts reject report on uranium traces” and reiterated that the level of uranium detected in their sampling of water, soil, vegetation and the hair of children “was not alarming”. 

Dr. Surinder Singh(xv), Professor, Department of Physics, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, emphatically stated that BARC’s comments to the press were deceiving as they never collected samples from across the state and intimating that the water didn’t have high uranium levels, was a direct attempt at subterfuge and even a deliberate lie. 

Several studies done by this university since 2005 have indicated that ground water levels in this region exceed WHO standards of 15 micrograms per litre(xvi).  Some levels reported were as high as 224 micrograms per litre.  Dr. Singh(xvii) (2009) further elaborated by saying: “The state government had got samples tested for uranium in Chandigarh too and high levels of uranium were detected.  There are no fixed limits for  uranium in soil and air as these have natural uranium, but high levels in water affects crops too.  I feel the BARC report is an eyewash.”

In addition to these comments, suggesting that it is in the interest of BARC and the Indian government to cover up the extent to which the power plants are causing damage to the bio-sphere and that they have deliberately lied to the public regarding the extent of the contamination, Dr GS Dhillon(xviii), former Chief Engineer, Irrigation Department and Director, Irrigation Research Institute, Amritsar, for 14 years, stressed that high uranium in water was due to fly ash from the two thermal power plants in Bathinda and Lehra Mohabbat.  “Coal has natural uranium and when burnt it vaporizes and gets deposited on fly ash from thermal plants.  A pond is used to extract uranium from fly ash.  China is doing it.  The two ponds at the thermal plants are not controlled properly, it seems. So uranium concentration here is high”.

Where a similar situation raised concern in Bengal(xix), with three power plants resulting in high concentrations of uranium in the area, the government of Bengal in East India shut down the three power plants till a way was ultimately found to control uranium levels.

Mandal and Sengupta(xx) (Department of Geology and GeoPhysics, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India), discussed the radionuclide and trace element contamination around Kolaghat Thermal Power Stationin West Bengal and its environmental implications saying: “Trace element analysis reveals that toxic elements (Pb, Cu, Ni, Fe, As) are sufficiently enriched in pond ash than their crustal abundances, and preferably in the lighter size fractions.  Radionuclides (U, Th) also show enrichment of 3 – 5 times in coal ash compared to their crustal average and are much higher than in the pond ashes of other thermal plants in India.” 

Of interest is that chemical analysis of the water sampled from tubewells near the ash ponds corresponded quite closely to those samples taken in the Bathinda district some 4 – 5 years ago(xxi), and showed high concentrations of trace elements (Al, Li, Ni, Fe, As, Zn, B, Ag, Sb, Co, Si, Mo, Ba, Rb, Se, Ph, V, Cr, Cu, Cd, Mn, Sr) – most of these levels were also elevated in the children from whom we took hair (2008) or baseline urine samples (2009).  Sengupta and Mandal(xxii) state that the distribution of these elements is mainly controlled by the ash deposited in the area.  Certain elements were specifically elevated in the tubewell water near the ash pond, implying significant imput from the ashpile (Al, Li, As, Zn, Ag, Sb, Si, Mo, Be, Rb, Se and Pb).

A key statement from their report “Research Communications”(xxiii) (2005) underscores the danger thermal plants pose to natural water sources: “The enrichment of some elements (Al, Fe, As and Mn) above WHO guidelines for drinking water denotes significant contamination of the groundwater from the toxic elements leached from the ash pile”. All ground water in the region around thermal power plants, where the fly-ash ponds are not properly controlled are vulnerable to metal contamination due to waste disposal and leachate percolation(xxiv);(xxv).

Sad to say, in Punjab the exact opposite seems to be happening – instead of the Punjabi government acting on the concerns by transparently investigating the suspected sources of contamination and by assisting the overwhelmed community of parents, children and health workers, the government and statutory bodies have closed ranks and the Centre in Faridkot was warned that it did not have a remit to drive such research.  They were threatened with closure if they persisted in speaking to the media – their only recourse.

In addition to this the Indian and regional governments are making no efforts to stop the contamination of the bio-sphere and particularly of vulnerable children and pregnant woman within a radius of 100 km of the Thermal Power Plants Bathinda.  Hence we find higher levels of uranium than in the rest of the population in children from villages, cities and towns surrounding thermal power plants across the region.

Here are some more figures which might be revealing: 

  • Faridkot, where 12 of the 113 children are from and were high uranium in hair were sampled,  is a mere 55.0424 km from Bathinda.  Other towns with affected children within a small radius of Bathinda are
  • Malaut – 42.8380 km (4 children);
  • Kotkapura, where 5 children were sampled is only 42.6095 km from Bathinda;
  • Ferozpur (6 children with high uranium) is 84.3920 km away from Bathinda; Abohar (5 children) is 71.2269 km away.
  • High levels of uranium in the hair of disabled children were also found in Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Mandi, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Tarn Taran in Punjab.

Faridkot, where the initial sampling of hair was done in 2008, finds itself in the unenviable position to be sandwiched between no less than 4 thermal plants to the north west of it in Pakistan (less than 100 km away) and a further 3 thermal plants to the south east and east of it (between 50 and 180 km away).

The Malwa-belt that forms the buffer between Pakistan and Punjab is said to have significant increases in cancer in recent years(xxvi)

Although experts in Punjab are still debating why there is such a marked increase in the number of cancer cases, Dr. JS Thakur(xxvii) (WHO’s Non-Communicable Diseases Department) who reported damage to the people of Punjab’s DNA linked to cancer, loosely attributed the rise in cancer to the chemical toxicity of the local waters.

In writing to you I trust that your Journal will help to correct incorrect perceptions pertaining to uranium, as scientific investigation into coal-fired power plants and their detrimental environmental role, is more than clear.  Assisting in the manner is particularly crucial as The Journal of Medical Physics publishes at that crucial junction between medicine and physics. 
Children are failing to thrive in India.  Children have growth defects, are medically ill, epileptic, mentally retarded or their movements and speech are severely disordered.  I firmly believe, based on evidence provided above, that toxicity in the water is playing a critical role in the aetiology of their diseases – clearly not only uranium, but especially  uranium as it was detected in such high quantities in so many of the children randomly sampled. 
Finding high uranium levels in the children has apparently unmasked the key culprit – the thermal power plants.  Your fair and full reporting of this matter can cast a forceful light onto the problem and we trust that as you do, policy makers, politicians and industry will receive a wake-up call.  This affects us all – not just the most vulnerable among us – many of the policy makers in government and CEO’s of industry who run a government or a region’s economy, live in that region too, and they and their families are as much at risk as the sick and deformed children of Faridkot’s Baba Farid Centres for Special Children – uranium is most certainly not a respecter of persons.
Please assist us in ensuring that a correction is published and that this story gains the publicity and peer review it deserves.


References

 

As quoted from The Times of India, April 2-3, 2009, News and Events, Journal of Medical Physics, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2009, 103 – 5.

Blaurock-Busch, E. & Griffin, V., Mineral and Trace Element Analysis, Laboratory and Clinical Application –  TMI Books, 1978]

Mandal, A. & Sengupta, D., Radionuclide and trace element contamination around Kolaghat Thermal Power Station, West Bengal Environmental Implications, Current Science, Vol. 88; No. 4; 24 Feb. 2005

Mishra, U.C., Environmental impact of coal industry and thermal power plants in India. J Environ Radioact. 2004; 72 (1-2): 35-40

Ibid

Singh B., Kumar, S. & Kumar, M., Leaching study of trace elements from coal ashes:  A case study of Bokaro Thermal Power Station “B”, J Environ Sci Eng. 2004 Jul; 46(3):203 -9

Mishra, U.C., J Environ Radioact. 2004; 72 (1 – 2): 35-40

Singh B., Kumar, S. & Kumar, M., Leaching study of trace elements from coal ashes:  A case study of Bokaro Thermal Power Station “B”, J Environ Sci Eng. 2004 Jul; 46(3):203 -9

Singh B., Kumar, S. & Kumar, M., Leaching study of trace elements from coal ashes:  A case study of Bokaro Thermal Power Station “B”, J Environ Sci Eng. 2004 Jul; 46(3):203 -9

Mukherjee, A.B. & Zevenhoven, R., Mercury in coal ash and its fate in the Indian subcontinent: A synoptic review. Sci Total Environ. 2006 Sep 1;368(1):384-92 Epub 2005 Sep 22

Hvustebdahl, M. Coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste. Scientific American. Dec. 13, 2007 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

Gustin, M.S. & Ladwig, K., An assessment of the significance of mercury release from coal fly ash. J Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2004 Mar;54(3):320-30

Papp, Z., Dezso, Z. & Daroczy, S., Significant radioactive contamination of soil around a coal-fired thermal power plant. J Environ radioact (2002;59(2):191-205)

Singh, A.D., Experts reject report on uranium traces. The Tribune On-line Edition, July, 27th, 2009. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090728/punjab.htm#8

Ibid

Ibid

Ibid

Ibid

Mandal, A. & Sengupta, D., Radionuclide and trace element contamination around Kolaghat Thermal Power Station, West Bengal Environmental Implications, Current Science, Vol. 88; No. 4; 24 Feb. 2005

Ibid

Kumar, M., Kumar, A, Singh, S., Mahajan, R.K. & Walia, T.P.S., Uranium Content measurement in drinking water samples using track etch technique,  J Radiation Measurement, 36, (2003), 479 – 481.

Mandal, A. & Sengupta, D., Radionuclide and trace element contamination around Kolaghat Thermal Power Station, West Bengal Environmental Implications, Current Science, Vol. 88; No. 4; 24 Feb. 2005

Ibid

Theis, T. L., Westrick, J. D., Hsu, C. L. and Marley, J. J., Field investigation of trace metals in groundwater from fly ash disposal. J. Water Pollut. Control Fed., 1978, 50, 2457–2469.

Theis, T. L. and Gardner, H. K., Environmental assessment of ash disposal. Crit. Rev. Environ. Control, 1990, 20, 21–42

Yadav, P., Uranium deforsm kids in Faridkot, TNN, Jan, 30, 2010;  March, 26th, 2010.  Sarabjit Jagirdar at htsyndication@hindustantimes.com

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