The untreated acidic residue from the jewellery-makers has allegedly made groundwater acidic, leading to numerous health problems.

Water polluted and undrinkable these Kerala residents are up in arms against local jewellers
news Environment Wednesday, October 19, 2016 - 08:34

For the past two months, residents of a neighbourhood in Kerala’s Thrissur district have been in a pitched struggle to save their one lifeline – the ground water used for drinking. 

The targets for the residents of Mariyapuram in Anchery are units making gold jewellery in the neighborhood. The untreated acidic residue allegedly dumped by these units has, over the years, turned the groundwater acidic and undrinkable.

The ph levels of water from the wells of houses in a radius of at least a kilometre now stands alarmingly low, between 3.9 and 4.1, which makes the water unfit for drinking. The acceptable limit is between 6.5 and 8.5. As a result, the residents have been forced to buy water cans on a daily basis to meet their drinking water requirements. 

The residents have approached the Corporation, the Pollution control board and the Health Department with the demanding a solution for their health woes. 

“It’s not as if the water from the wells is any fitter for other purposes. Doctors and health department officials have told us not to use this water for anything. But how can one buy cans of water for every need?” Meenakshi, a worried resident, asks. 

There are three jewellery-making and dyeing units within a 600m radius of houses with residents facing a number of health issues, including cancer. 

Health issues galore

63-year-old Meenakshi’s family were the first to spot a difference in the taste of the water from their well in 2012. The suddenly sour taste of the water immediately caught the attention of the family who have been living for more than thirty years in the neighborhood. However, the other residents in the neighbourhood ignored their claims. 

Since then, one or more members of her six-member family have been ill at any given point of time. The ph level of water in their well stands at 3.9. 

Fever, itching, skin and scalp discoloration, burning sensation and peeling skin in the mouth, and stomach aches, are some of the main symptoms residents complain of. 

42-year-old Jimcy, another resident, says, "Initially we did not take these health issues seriously. But then we realized that it was not just one or two families, everybody in the neighborhood had the same problems. We never noticed the taste difference until one family pointed it out. Earlier, guests who visited our home would point out the weird taste and odor of our water, but we did not give much thought to it, until many in the neighborhood started to develop similar health issues."

The family now uses water from the well for cooking and washing only. 

"We can't afford to buy water every day, like many of the residents here do," she says. 

Pointing to a 20-litre water can at her doorstep, she says that the family has been bringing drinking water from a friend's house. 

"My children have now refused to use well water for anything. My daughter now fills her water bottle from the water cooler at her school every day," Jimcy, whose husband works as a vegetable vendor, says. 

Jewellers deny claims

Linto VJ, who co-owns Angel Jewellery Dye Works with his two brothers, however, denies the residents' claims that their unit bears responsibility for the condition of the ground water. 

Contrary to the residents' claims, Linto says, his family have been using water from their well for the last 15 years, since opening the unit. 

"We have even set up an RO plant at the unit, that treats all the residue, after some residents began to complain two years ago. We only use a negligible quantity of sulphuric acid in our work, and have all the requisite licenses to run the unit. The residents are targeting us for no reason," Linto said. 

He asserts that the health issues seen among residents is not because of the water turning acidic, and suggests that if residents sprinkle lime in their wells, that would make the water fit for use.  

The other residents however, claim that Linto’s family had started buying water cans many years ago. 

Unit penalised

In a two-room house next to Linto's unit, eight members of a family are at work in an unnamed jewellery-making unit. The family migrated from Kolkata last year and has since been employed in the house-cum-production-unit. 

A machine to mend the gold and counters for the men to work at are set up in the congested room. Through a half-opened door, Shombhu, one of the men working here, refutes the residents' allegations. 

"The water in this place was like this even before we started work," he says. 

Citing a lack of proper licenses and a treatment plant, Health Department officials have given a deadline of three days for this unit to be shifted out of the neighborhood. 

However, the residents complain that this offers little respite for them. 

Mary, who has suffered two relapses of cancer, says, "One, the bigger units will still function. And two, even if they close down, it will take at least 5 years for the water to be normal. How will we live till then?" 

 

 

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