More than half of India’s wells have higher-than-permitted levels of iron, while about one in six have higher than allowed levels of fluoride, according to data from the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
The numbers, updated as of April 2012, also show the real extent of arsenic poisoning in West Bengal, with one third of the wells tested there reporting poisonous levels of arsenic.
Data was available from a total of 99,380 wells spread across the country. However, a few states, including Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat were poorly represented in the sample.
The most alarming finding is related to iron toxicity, which was found in most wells in the country.
Iron poisoning of ground water is most prominent in the East and South of the country. In Orissa, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and the North Eastern states, 89% or more of the tested well-water had toxic levels of iron in it.
Iron poisoning causes tissue damage, especially in iron-storing organs such as the liver. It also causes fatigue, headache, irritability, skin pigmentation, lethargy, joint diseases, loss of body hair, amenorrhea, and impotence.
If untreated, the condition, known as hemochromatosis, increases the risks of diabetes, liver cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Harmful iron content was also noted in more than half of the wells in Kerala, Uttarakhand and Bihar.
Similar trends were observed in Arsenic poisoning of groundwater as well. Here too, the eastern states led, with high levels of contamination reported from West Bengal (33.4%), Assam (7.6%) and Bihar (6.51%). Only 8 states contained wells that had toxic levels of Arsenic in them.
It is estimated that forty million people in West Bengal and Bangladesh are at risk from arsenic-poisoning of groundwater, caused by the release of the harmful chemical from rocks.
Long-term exposure to arsenic at lower than toxic levels can lead to skin changes such as darkening or discoloration, redness, swelling and bumps, lines in fingernails and liver and kidney problems.
Arsenic has also been implicated in causing certain cancers.
If Arsenic and Iron are contaminating groundwater in the East and South of the country, it is flouride poisoning which is causing problems in the North and West of the country.
Compared to just 3.5% of the country’s wells reporting harmful Arsenic content, 17.5% have more than the permitted level of fluoride in their water.
Most of the states that do not have Arsenic issues seem to figure in the fluorides list. The highest levels are noticed in Madhya Pradesh (92.5% of 2,400 wells), Andhra Pradesh (84%) and Haryana (80%).
Fluoride in groundwater is usually leeched by granite rocks. It creates bone deformities in children and causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, muscle weakness, hyperactive reflexes, muscular spasms, seizures, tetanic contractions, tremors, hypersalivation, nausea, vomiting, hyperkalemia and hypocalcemia.
Interestingly, the highest level of salinity (salt) contamination was found in the hill state of Jammu & Kashmir, while the highest level of nitrate contamination was found in Maharashtra and Karnataka.