Friday, October 7, 2011

KVM suggestions to PPCB : Build Community participation and Action Research system for Mitigating Environmental Health Crisis in Punjab


Suggestions submitted to Punjab Pollution Control Board by Kheti Virasat Mission and its affiliate Environmental Health Action Group on the eve of Workshop on Incidence of Cancer in Punjab held at Hotel Shivalik, Chandigarh on 12 September 2011.

Build Community participation and Action Research system for Mitigating Environmental Health Crisis in Punjab

Proposals for a Time Bound Action Plan to be executed by Punjab Pollution Control Board, Health Department, Other Government/ Semi Government Departments, Universities and NGOs with active participation of the community.

The action plan should be executed/monitored/coordinated by a Joint Action Committee of all the participants. Its functioning should be totally transparent. The activities and results should be shared with the people through the media periodically. We need to do the following things on priority basis:

There is significant scientific evidence available now which shows beyond doubt that our environment—soil, water and air- has been grossly polluted with highly poisonous/ toxic substances. These toxic substances have already reached the food chain and the human bodies. Their levels in human and animal tissues are high enough to disturb their physiology and cause or contribute to various diseases and premature death. That virtually means that we are being slowly poisoned along with other species who are consuming the same food for their survival. Punjab is sitting on a volcano of environmental health crisis, which is affecting not only the human beings but all the living species. We are neck deep in toxic environment. The effects of this chronic poisoning on human health are not being taken note of by medical profession, health department and the governments. Similarly the impact on animal and plant health is not being given the urgently needed due attention by the concerned departments.

The toxins are coming from multiple sources. The use of highly poisonous agro-chemicals (pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers); discharge of untreated or partially treated industrial waste into natural water bodies and coal based power plants seem to be the main sources of pollution. The highly toxic waste from industrial units is being discharged into the natural water bodies without proper treatment which is a must according to law. This toxic water further contaminates the soil and dangerious substances enter our food chain.

The following must be done to keep a check:--

  1. Testing the water samples from---

(a) The spot where an industrial unit is discharging its waste water.

(b) The natural water body in which the waste water is being discharged.

(c) The tube wells, rivers, canals and all other sources from where water is being drawn to be used for agricultural purposes as well as for consumption of animals and human beings.

(d) Water being supplied for drinking.

  1. The water samples should be tested for the following---

(a) Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)

(b) Chemical Oxygen demand (COD).

(c) Total Coli form And E-Coli Bacteria.

(d) Total Suspended Matter.

(e) Total Dissolved Salts (TDS).

(f) Pesticides—Organochlorine, Organophosphorus, Carbamates and others.

(g) Heavy Metals and other toxins—mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, fluoride, zinc, iron, nitrates, radio active substances and other industrial and plastic based chemicals etc.

  1. Samples of food –vegetables, fruits, fodder, grains, pulses, bovine milk, eggs and meat- should be tested for the levels of pesticides, heavy metals, other industrial toxins and radio active substances.
  2. Samples of animal and human secretions and tissues—blood, urine, milk, saliva and mucous membrane scrapings--- should be tested for levels of pesticides, heavy metals and for evidence of genetic mutations.
  3. Epidemiological studies among the affected communities.
  4. Planning remedial measures.
  5. High levels of pesticides and heavy metals have been reported in the food chain and the human bodies but the doctors are unable to correlate it with the disease pattern prevalent in the community. The doctors should be sensitized/ trained to suspect the chronic poisoning and then to confirm it by testing the tissue levels. If the suspicion of chronic poisoning is strong enough to need further investigation then the Health Department should try to pin point the source of that poisoning in collaboration with PPCB, Public Health, Animal Husbandry and Agriculture Departments.

Five types of evidence is clearly visible-

1. The levels of various toxins in the environment are very high.

2. The use of various toxins is unregulated and very high.

3. The levels of these toxins in the human tissues including breast milk are alarming.

4. There is an ample number of studies in the world scientific literature which co relate the levels of these toxins with specific clinical entities.

5. Similar clinical entities are clearly visible in our people who are living in the toxicity-affected environment.

We have enough indications/ evidences to raise the questions. We have to work hard on all the five levels to find answers to our problems. The task is very big. We have to join our hands and heads to find out the solutions. The problem of environmental health is very grave. It is particularly grave for the coming generations because there are clear evidences of toxicity induced genetic mutations. The effects on human reproductive system have been found to be very serious. There are clear indications that the toxic substances affected the reproductive system of species which have become extinct. The other visible effects on human health are--increase in the prevalence of toxicity related cancers, declining herd immunity and rising prevalence of infections, rising prevalence of neurological disorders, spontaneous abortions, congenital abnormalities, diabetes mellitus, heart and blood vessel diseases, asthma, allergies, auto immune disorders, menstrual disorders, declining sperm count and increasing prevalence of childless couples and host of other clinical entities which are directly or indirectly associated with environmental toxicity.

Similar pattern of ill health is visible in our cattle. The adverse effects on our crops and plant biodiversity are clearly visible. The adverse effects on our soil and water are also obvious. Human Health, Animal Health and Plant Health are part of a bigger concept of Health of all Living Beings. All of them share the same environment and are part of the same food chain. Health of all living beings is directly related to the health of soil, water and air. The whole ecosystem is one single entity and is being gravely affected by the activities around us.

Let us join our heads and hands to save our ecosystem, environment, human health and our future generations.

  1. Government has resolved to undertake a widespread and multi-centric environmental epidemiological mapping through an extensive study and participatory research.
  2. As Punjab has suffered the most severe ecological crisis, thus it needs a paradigm shift to prevent ecological suicide. The government has proposed a first ever ecological audit to seek an analysis on ecological condition of Punjab. A high power working group shall be constituted by involving independent experts to take up this study. This is indeed very important to get a clear picture of ecological damages and hence to evolve a strategy for ecological revival and environmental sustainability in Punjab.
  3. A balance sheet regarding the collapse of Green Revolution also needs to be drawn. We need to know what went wrong with agriculture, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes. A post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary.
  4. Research Project on Pesticide consumption and residue: As Punjab has one of highest levels of pesticide consumption in India, it subsequently has the highest pesticide load on its people and eco-system. Punjab is already facing severe adverse impacts of agro-chemicals used in last four decades. Now at this crucial juncture, the Punjab Government should take bold steps to ensure a safe environment and eco-system to the future of generations of Punjab. For this the Punjab Government should take these steps:

· Complete a detailed study on pesticide consumption patterns in Punjab.

· The government should immediately ban aggressive marketing of pesticides including all forms of advertisements, publicity and promotion schemes for pesticides and other agro-chemicals along with all incentives given to the pesticide and agro-chemical dealers’ network.

· Raise awareness about the dangers of pesticide use through well-financed education campaigns. These must ensure the dissemination of information regarding ill effects of pesticides to all users.

· The government should evolve an action plan for the immediate and time-bound phasing out of the most deadly pesticides: Class I A, I B and Ii.

· The vital task of properly compiling residue data, already generated by the agriculture universities should be completed.

The disease wise data collection is very poor in government hospitals and is almost non-existent in private hospitals. The registration of diseases should be made fool proof so that we can know the disease pattern of the community and try to find the underlying root cause.

It is really disturbing to note that our mainstream health care system is mainly focused on giving palliative care to the sick and is least bothered about knowing the root cause of a disease. It is a well known fact now that most of our diseases are directly or indirectly related to our environment. Hence this registry should be more strict and accurate in the case of diseases which are known to be the result of environmental degradation such as cancers; congenital abnormalities; spontaneous abortions and other clinical entities related with reproductive system; cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and other handicaps; infectious diseases and all other patients needing indoor treatment. All deaths including still births should be investigated in detail including their tissue levels of pesticides and heavy metals.

Safe food for Punjabis: The data from All India Coordinated Research Project on Pesticide Residue clearly indicates the presence of DDT, HCH and BHC in cereals, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and even infant formula samples from Punjab. The edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon, Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos and lindane. This is an alarm bell for devastation in offing. Moreover the presence of pesticides in blood as detected by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) also raises serious questions. The CSE report cites the presence of a cocktail of 6 to 13 pesticides in blood samples. CSE also finds organo-chlorine and residues of the newer and so-called ‘non-persistent’ pesticides, organophosphates, in blood. The rising levels of these dangerous chemicals in human bodies and bodies of other living beings, in the soil, water and food items, much beyond safe limits is the warning sign to take corrective steps urgently. This situation demands that pesticide-free food must be first offered to the people of Punjab.

Declare ecological and environmental health emergency in Malwa: The southwestern Malwa region has been identified as facing the most severe environmental health crisis. The use of toxic chemicals is the highest in this belt. This entire area should be treated as a toxic hot spot. To focus its efforts, the government must declare and impose immediately the state of ecological and environmental health emergency in the entire belt. For this, specially drawn plans are needed with a specific focus on natural and organic farming, with adequately allocated funds for the targeted problem.

Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation Task Force: Even while the assessment is being done, an environmental health crisis of this intensity can only be mitigated by large scale community intervention and participation. Thus the new government should form an Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation Task Force under the aegis of Institute for Environmental Health Research and Studies with the majority participation from NGOs and farmer groups. A senior epidemiologist or environmentalist should head this task force with powers minimum of the secretary rank of the government. This task force should be constituted by taking members from medical fraternity, social activists, and teachers of life sciences, farmers and experts from various governmental departments.

The primary work of this task force would be to prepare and implement a Comprehensive Relief and Remedial Programme in the acutely affected areas. The entire medical fraternity and medical students must be involved in this programme to rejuvenate the health of the community. The medical fraternity needs to be sensitized and suitably augmented to include specific content on toxicology and contemporary crisis of environmental health.

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