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Widespread uranium contamination in aquifers in 16 Indian states

Humankind has been rapidly draining some of our largest groundwater basins, in turn, creating unwanted side-effects, like water and food security. India is already plagued with groundwater contaminated with arsenic and fluoride, both posing human health risks.

We have already seen studies on the Indo-Gangetic Basin located in northwestern India and Pakistan, that accounts for a quarter of the Earth’s groundwater reserves.

With 60 percent of its water contaminated and not fit to drink, the sustainability of this large terrestrial water reserve is of great concern. Now, There is the added worry over uranium contamination.

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Avner Vengosh et. al.


High levels of uranium contamination
Not to alarm anyone, but uranium is natural in origin. and low levels can be found within all rock, soil, and water. Soluble uranium salts are toxic, although not quite as toxic as mercury or lead. Uranium can hit our kidneys the hardest, causing chronic kidney disease.

The World Health Organization has established a daily “tolerated intake” of soluble uranium salts for the general public of 30 micrograms of uranium per liter, a level that is consistent with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

However, the researchers point out that in India, human factors such as groundwater-table depletion, along with nitrate pollution may be exacerbating the problem.

“Nearly a third of all water wells we tested in one state, Rajasthan, contained uranium levels that exceed the World Health Organization and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water standards,” said Avner Vengosh, a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, according to Phys.org.

“By analyzing previous water quality studies, we also identified aquifers contaminated with similarly high levels of uranium in 26 other districts in northwestern India and nine districts in southern or southeastern India,” he said.

Rachel Coyte collects water samples from a well in Rajasthan  India.

Rachel Coyte collects water samples from a well in Rajasthan, India.
Avner Vengosh, Duke Univ.


The scope of the study
The research team gathered its data from 324 wells in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as 68 previous studies on groundwater geochemistry in the same areas. Much of the uranium found in India’s groundwater was brought there through the weathering of the Himalayan mountains, the rocks of which contain high levels of uranium.

A growing population, along with increased use of groundwater for agriculture, has been rapidly depleting reserves, which in turn allows for oxidation of the uranium found in rocks in the aquifer to escape and contaminate the water.

“The results of this study strongly suggest there is a need to revise current water-quality monitoring programs in India and re-evaluate human health risks in areas of high uranium prevalence,” Vengosh said. “Developing effective remediation technologies and preventive management practices should also be a priority.”

The paper “Large-Scale Uranium Contamination of Groundwater Resources in India” has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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