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Dr. Carin Smit's open letter to Journal of Medical Physics India


Carin Smit’s Challenge To Ms. Scott/Government

Dear Miss Scott

It is regrettable that government takes the stance that NGO’s and other interest groups pose a threat to governmental claims regarding the water issues facing South Africa. Rather than welcome involvement and collaborate with those who have a direct, sincere and committed interest in seeing the water crisis remedies, governmental claims appear to be hostile, denialist and oppositional.

May I briefly outline what is currently taking place in one of the world’s largest democracies, India:

In 2008 I visited north India on request to offer my services as a volunteer in a project where there are more than 400 severely disabled children. The majority suffered from cerebral palsy, were blind, deaf, deformed, mentally retarded, epileptic or had autism. When I saw the status of these children, and the abject poverty facing the families who brought their children for help to the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, a clinic offering Indian Neuro-therapy to these hapless children, I managed to convince a laboratory in Europe to donate lab-time and started running toxicological tests on the children (see sub-joined article).

Over a two year period our testing uncovered that more than 88% of these children were toxic with uranium levels far above WHO and international safety standards.

When these results were released as front-page news in the Times of India and Hindustan News, two of the largest newspapers internationally, as well as to CNN, BBC News and other international media representatives, the Indian and Punjabi government reacted exactly as our own government is currently reacting to the news.

Punjab health minister Lakshmi Kanta Chawla stated in April last year: “This is not a health subject. We don’t know how children are showing such high concentrations of uranium,… it is for the central government in Delhi to deal with the problem.” The Central Government, in turn, then sent in high ranking officials from the Bhaba Atomic Research Council and the Department of Atomic Energy, who took a few water and hair samples from children in the project in Faridkot and made immediate claims in the media that the uranium levels in Faridkot were well within safety limits and that the children were deformed (see photos below) due to congenital reasons and that their disease could not be blamed on the high levels of uranium. They claimed that the testing done by the international lab was spurious and they even went ahead and threatened the project with closure if they continued speaking to the media, stating that it was beyond their remit to speak to media or drive research in this matter.

All these claims were made, despite the fact that reputable research was done more than 5 years ago by the University of Amritsar in Punjab, indicating that groundwater and pipe wells were heavily contaminated with uranium and that radon (a daughter of uranium) was elevated in houses in the Bathinda region elevating the risk of cancer in some communities thus affected more than 153 times as they reported on dose rate, cumulative dose and lifetime cancer risk – 15% of dwellings surveyed in Punjab had Radon levels which were in the “range of action” level . (Singh et al. Journal for Radiation Measurements, 39 (2005) 535 – 552.).

In July, 2010, our research was published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Medicine Insights: Therapeutics, 2010:2 655-661 (12th July, 2010).

Due to pressure brought to bear on the Indian and Punjabi governments, after our research was published in this prestigious, international scientific journal in New Zealand, the comment by LivePunjab became a stark reminder that governments cannot ignore or dismiss the work done at grassroots level by NGO’s, concerned individuals and civil stakeholders: “Joint efforts should be taken by the laboratories and governmental agencies to do follow up studies that evaluate early metal exposure in children who are living in industrial or environmentally endangered regions of the state,” claim LivePunjab.

Only now, for the first time since this story broke in the media, does it appear that the Indian government is taking the matter of high uranium levels in groundwater seriously (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101003/punjab.htm#4), as other studies have also now been concluded showing that it isn’t just uranium that is elevated in groundwater in this region, but a whole cocktail of other lethal metals and chemicals have also tested out as beyond safety levels.

Today, 18 months later, the Indian government seems to shame-facedly to acknowledge danger, and reports are that they have started to remedy water supplies as a matter of urgency by planning to install water purification systems in every household in Punjab and have in collaboration with the Punjabi government started to take urgent steps to remedy the situation by passing tighter legislation against the dumping of “black water” into canals and other water sources. Senior Environmental Engineer for the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has recently stated after a surprise checking campaign targeted 6 large industrial units in Patiela, Punjab: “The industries should understand that it is very important to make the rivers, drains and other water bodies of Punjab pollution free in order to build a green, healthy and nature-friendly Punjab for future generations. Hence, all the industrial units of Punjab must comply with the guidelines laid by the PPCB with respect to various types of pollution”, he added.

The sad part of this success story is that in a state with 24 million people, government knew about the water crisis for almost 6 years and millions of women fell pregnant and new babies were born over that period who were exposed to the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of uranium as well as other lethal metals and xenobiotics materials and nothing was done, until an outside, independent agency (ourselves) went in and at great personal cost and sacrifice, challenged the Indian government. SP Sharma – Tribune News Service

* Bathinda, January 23 – The Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) has ordered the Pollution Control Board to test groundwater below ash ponds of the thermal power house of the PSEB here to see whether it contained uranium or not. In its order, dated January 14, the PSHRC has told the PSEB to take steps to reduce the uranium content within prescribed limits, in case it was found beyond the permissible limit. Taking cognizance of reports published in The Tribune regarding air pollution being caused in Bathinda due to fly ash emanating from the coal-based thermal plant and also high quantity of uranium in the groundwater, the PSHRC had earlier issued notices to the Punjab government, PSEB and Pollution Control Board. PSHRC chairperson Justice RS Mongia and other members have ordered that tests may be done at some other thermal plant to verify whether the ash pond here was causing presence of uranium in the ground water. The PSHRC suggested another test of groundwater from some place away from the ash pond to compare the uranium content. Chief engineer of the thermal plant Kamaljit Singh informed the commission that modernisation of Unit number III has been started and the work would be completed in nine months. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100124/punjab.htm#20

Despite the huge shift in thinking in India about the contamination of its water sources, acid drainage from its many thermal power plants, is still not recognised as the contaminating source – coal, when burnt for energy production, becomes a fly-ash. This fly-ash is pumped into large, unlined fly-ash dams all over India. The fly-ash seeps into the ground and down into the aquifer. On its way down, it has to flow into rock formations rich in uranium. Acid drainage, similar to what we have on the (gold) Reef of South Africa, releases exceptionally high quantities of toxic metals, naturally found in rock formations, such as arsenic, lead, nickel and uranium into the pristine underground aquifers and thus poisons an entire nation. Elevated levels of nitrates associated with agricultural use, can also be to blame for the acid levels in the water.

Interestingly enough, wealthy captains of industry in Punjab are making the same claims that Ms. Scott is making with regards to NGO’s, concerned individuals and civil stakeholders: “Umrao Singh, president of the Sugar Division of Chadha Estate, denied the allegations (that his liquor industry is causing severe water pollution in the region). He claimed that certain local leaders had been creating a hue and cry unnecessarily for their vested interests. He claimed that the Punjab Pollution Control Board had collected water samples from the area, which were found fit for use. The hazardous waste and air pollution are being managed as per the directions of the board”, he claimed’.

Oceans and thousands of kilometers divide us, yet, when culpability or acknowledgement of wrong has to be apportioned or accepted, similar games are played and the helpless and hapless, the poor and the marginalized suffer!

Similar claims as the one above (see subject-line) that SA’s water crisis is dire, are currently being made in India (Punjab, which means Five Rivers, has been faced with the total destruction of its pristine water sources “The Energy Research Institute, a New Delhi think tank, says that already in an agriculture-based state such as Panjaab in the north, 98 percent of ground water has been exploited. The Forum for Bio-Technology and Food Security adds that if the trend continues, the once fertile Panjaab- once known as the country’s granary – will turn into a desert,” reports Witness84.com (http://www.witness84.com/water). At least India’s central and regional governments seem to be listening – will South Africa’s government fail this test?

Water Contamination
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Shankar Singh, 22, lost his eyesight
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Their heads are too large or too small,
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Dr. Carin Smit's open letter to Journal of Medical Physics India

In 2008 I visited north India on request
to offer my services as a volunteer in a
project where there are more than 400
severely disabled children. The majority
suffered from [Read More...]

Punjab disability & Uranium Link – BBC

Tests on children with cerebral palsy or
mental disabilities in the Indian state of
Punjab have revealed high levels of
uranium. [Read More...]

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