Fluoridated water causing dental problems in Odisha villages
Nihar Mallick (12), a class VI student of the school of the riverside village Chandanpur under Binjharapur block in Odisha’s Jajpur district is a worried boy, as his front teeth are marked by distinct brown lines. “I got these dental stains last year after we started drinking water from the village tube-well, which was dug by the government in 2016,” said Nihar while showing her brown-coloured teeth.
Like Nihar many villagers including children are suffering from dental fluorosis, joint pain and other health-related problems at Chandanpur, Harisinghpur, Olei, Pandasahi and other villages with a population of 15000 near the river Kharosotra under Binjharapur block, as they still drink fluoridated water from the village tube-wells.
“Large numbers of villagers of our Gram Panchayat are suffering from diseases induced by high fluoride levels in drinking water. It is high time on the part of the government to provide potable drinking water to the villagers,” said Sobhagya Kumar Mohapatra, Sarapanch of Olei Gram Panchayat.
“Dental stains are common in our village as the groundwater has a high fluorine content. Many villagers were unaware of the reason behind the discolouration and stains on their teeth. But they recently came to know that the drinking of groundwater is the main cause behind many health-related issues in the villages,” said Rajesh Samal, a villager of Olei.
“Mismanagement of surface and groundwater resources has led to high concentration of fluoride in drinking water in our Gram Panchayat. We are scared to use the water from the tube-well. But we have no option as it is not possible for us to drink the polluted water from the river or pond,” said Santi Samal of Chandanpur .
“As per the recent water testing report of the Rural Water Sanitary and Sanitation (RWSS) of Jajpur, fluoride levels are high in these villages. We found 5.08 milligram content of fluoridate out of one liter of groundwater in village Chandanpur. Similarly, we detected 3. 50 milligram of fluoridate in Harisinghpur village, 3.34 milligrams of fluoridate in Olei village and 5.01 milligram fluoridate in Pandasahi village. These results indicate that the fluoride level in groundwater is, in general, lower than the maximum official permissible limit of 1 milligram in one liter in drinking water. Dental fluorosis is a defect in the tooth enamel caused by excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride. Brown, grey and black teeth patches and pits are common among the people living in this area. Many people are also suffering from joint pains for drinking fluoridated water from the tube-wells as the high fluoride content in drinking water affects teeth and bones. Excessive consumption of fluoride-contaminated water over time can also lead to skeletal fluorosis,” said Amiya Kumar Parija, executive engineer of RWSS, Jajpur.
“We found fluoridated water in many tube-wells in these villages, for which we advised the villagers not to drink water from tube-wells. Tapping surface water sources is an effective way to fight fluorosis. We will provide surface water to villagers after doing proper water treatment and for this purpose our office has recently sent a proposal to the government,” added Parija.
“High fluoride content would have debilitating effect not only on bones and dental structure but also on the entire body. Villagers in the affected areas would be educated on fluoride contamination in water and intake of nutritious diet to combat fluorosis,” said Dr Subrat Kumar Nayak, medical officer of Community Health Center (CHC), Binjharapur.
“People usually think contamination of water in terms of physical impurities and bacteriological elements, but there is not much awareness on chemical contamination of water. That doesn’t mean that fluorosis is no more a threat for the state, or chemical contamination of water is not of alarming scale; rather what seems truer is that somehow the authorities concerned have managed to suppress the facts, which is why despite the alarming situation the matter is not in focus. Chemical pollution of water is often man made. For instance, certain rocks contain fluoride and release the same when crushed. Thus, when people dig a well or bore a well in such rocky beds, the water gets contaminated with fluoride, which, if high, may lead to dental or skeletal fluorosis on regular consumption of this water,” said Bikash Rath, Senior Programme Manager of Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC).
“Nitrate/nitrite pollution is caused by application of chemical fertilizers in agricultural fields, which affects the nearby water bodies including ground water. Industrial pollutants and mining have intensified various forms of chemical contamination like that of the toxic hexavalent chromium. Unfortunately, there is hardly any public awareness on this issue,” added Rath.
“In Odisha, at least 16 blocks in 10 districts are said to be fluoride affected. The fluorosis patients suffer in silence because of government apathy, though it is a fact that unscientific groundwater development, particularly installation of bore-wells by the government agencies, has made this disease widespread. Nuapada district is a perfect example of this. Five blocks of Nuapada district has been identified with high fluoride levels, among which Boden and Komna are most affected. Karlakote village of Boden Block is even mentioned in the report of Central Ground Water Board for its high vulnerability to
fluorosis. Unfortunately, when the district administration organised a disability detection camp (Bhimabhoi Bhinnakshyama Samarthya Shibira) in this village last April, the doctors refused to certify that the disability of the suffering villagers was due to fluorosis. Interestingly, few people of the district did get disability certificate mentioning fluorosis way back in 2009, but thereafter it seems that the administration is not ready to admit the fact, which is why the fluorosis (skeletal)-affected people do not get any mention of the actual disease in their certificate. A mega pipe water supply project is being implemented in the district chiefly to address the fluorosis problem, but the time of its completion as well as effectiveness is a matter of concern because it is already seen that in many pipe water supply projects frequent power failure or other technical issues are making the system defunct for many days in a month. So, although the authorities may claim to have solved the problem by providing pipe water supply, the ground reality is quite different. One can very well see in Karlakote village how the water supply project became defunct due to erroneous technical assessment, and how the present system is inadequate, causing even village conflicts,” added Rath.
“This is but a sample of the growing problem in Odisha and elsewhere. And taking the advantage of people’s ignorance, the water filter business flourishes well because people purchase such filters not according to their water quality issue but being influenced by brand name or status symbol or otherwise,” said Rath.
By Ashis Senapati from jajpur