By Megha Mohan, Hindustan Times
FINALLY, VILLAGES in the Talwandi Sabo block of
Bathinda district know why cancer is gripping the area. After
an extensive study conducted in these villages, the PGIMER, Chandigarh,
has found that it is pesticides that is turning this cotton belt
into a “cancer belt”.
PGI's interim report, which is yet to be submitted
to the government, states that most common cancers have been found
to be that of breast, uterus, leukaemia, oesophagus, skin and
ovary. The first phase of survey revealed that 80 per cent Talwandi
Sabo villages had water pollution problem as compared to just
20 per cent in those of Chamkaur Sahib block.
The study clearly says the number of cancer cases
in these areas –1.63/1,000 – tallies with the average
number of cases – 2/1,000 – in India. The disease
has been found more prevalent in women, with 80 women of 107 confirmed
cases being in grip of it.
Two teams of PGI comprising four surveyors and one
supervisor each with one medical officer in the group conducted
the survey. The Ropar district was taken as the controlled area
and the study here started from Chamkaur Sahib.
The interim report of the study says the cancer
death rate in 2002 was almost two times higher at Talwandi Sabo
as compared to Chamkaur Sahib. The team also culled retrospective
record from main cancer hospitals catering to the area, including
PGI, Oswal Cancer Hospital, Ludhiana, and Acharya Tulsi Das Regional
Cancer Institute, Bikaner.
The study was conducted following the Punjab government
direction to the Punjab Pollution Control Board to inquire into
the reasons behind the high number of cancer cases in Talwandi
Sabo block, after which the PPCB gave PGI Rs 10 lakh to conduct
Chemical tests revealTHE ANALYSIS of water samples
taken from Talwandi Sabo has been found laden with carcinogens
(cancer-causing chemicals), including toxic heptachlor in ground
as well as tap water, high level of iron, chromium, arsenic, chromium
and nickel. Even the vegetable samples reveal that heptachlor,
a chemical banned in India, is being frequently used. Apart from
heptachlor, the vegetables here are toxic with known carcinogens
alpha-endosulphan, dieldrin and heptachlor, as well as aldrin,
chlorpyrifos and others.
Experts, officials sayMEMBER SECRETARY, PPCB, Malwinder
Singh says, “Though we are yet to receive the final report,
the interim report strongly points towards overuse of pesticides
as the major cause behind the high instances of cancer cases in
However, principal investigator Prof Rajesh Kumar,
Head of Department, Community Medicine and Cytology and Gynaecological
Pathology, PGI, wasn't available for comments.
Meanwhile, a member of a PGI team, not willing to
be named, said the results of two or three more rounds were awaited.
“Samples have been dispatched to the Indian Toxological
Institute, Lucknow, whose results would be incorporated in the
final report,” he added.
However, Dr S.G. Kabra, a senior environmentalist
at the Indian Institute of Health Management and Research, Jaipur,
says, “The report is clear indication towards the fact that
Punjab needs to be freed from the clutches of pesticides immediately.
The extensive use of pesticides in cotton belt is spelling doom
not only for flora but for fauna as well.”
Director of Kheti Virasat, an NGO working to conserve
natural resources and ecology of Punjab, makes a point, “Punjab's
environmental health is sitting on a volcano where pesticides
should be urgently replaced with organic farming. The Punjab Agricultural
University should form a directorate of organic farming to bring
respite for farmers as well as the villagers of Talwandi Sabo
Manila – An international coalition of activists today launched
the 3rd Global Day of Action against Waste (GDAW) citing the increasing
health impacts of polluting waste disposal practices which affect
mainly children throughout the world.
More than a hundred groups from 35 countries participated this
year in what has become an annual day of protest against unsustainable
and dangerous waste disposal systems. Coordinated by the Global
Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), this year’s
protest highlighted recent evidence from the World Health Organization
which indicates that more than 3 million children under the age
of five are dying each year because of polluted air and water
and exposure to other environmental hazards.
“To be really blunt about it, the worsening levels of pollution
worldwide are killing children. Governments are obviously failing
to protect children and the human population at large from harmful
chemical assaults resulting from unsustainable and irresponsible
practices such as incineration,” according to Von Hernandez,
Incinerators are linked to serious environmental health threats.
Incineration alone is responsible for 69 percent of global emissions
of the notorious pollutant dioxin which is linked to cancer, immune
and reproductive system disorders, birth defects, and other health
threats. Incineration is also a primary source of mercury, a potent
neurotoxin, which builds up in the environment - especially aquatic
ecosystems - and affects the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver.
It is especially harmful to pregnant women and children.
“Many people are unaware that even backyard burning of
household waste produces toxic gases and particulate matter that
spread over wide distances, and can remain suspended for some
time in the air where the trash was burnt. Families exposed to
frequent burning of household waste in their neighborhood are
at a risk for inhaling toxic by-products of burning such as dioxins
and furans, which have been shown to be associated with cancer,
weakening of the immune system, reproductive disorders, and other
diseases. Children are especially susceptible because their natural
defenses are not yet fully developed.” says Dr. Romeo Quijano,
a toxicologist from the UP College of Medicine, and president
of Pesticide Action Network Philippines (PAN Phils.).
In addition to the immediate pollution they create, incinerators
and landfills also perpetuate wasteful and unsustainable production
and consumption systems. Incinerators destroy resources, which
would be better conserved for future use given the increasing
pressure to harvest finite natural resources.
“Available evidence worldwide from various academic, governmental
and international institutions indicate that many of the chemicals
coming out of dumpsites, landfills and incinerators have also
now been found in the human body. The fact that everyone is now
contaminated with these harmful pollutants proves that we are
now dangerously skirting the edge of the ecological precipice.
How much harm are we willing to accept before we abandon these
deadly ways of managing society’s discards,” added
GAIA is an international coalition of community-based organizations,
research and policy advocacy institutions, citizen pressure groups
and other nonprofit organizations and individuals working together
to promote clean production, zero waste and sustainable discard
management systems. GAIA members which now number 470 in 75 countries
are committed to ending waste incineration and advancing real
solutions to the waste crisis. A member of GAIA, PAN Philippines
is a non-government organization that has engaged in various activities
related to pesticides, health and environment for almost a decade
Original URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/5922_993403,0015002000000094.htm