Too much uranium in India’s groundwater, research finds

Uranium, known for its radioactive properties, has been found in predominant quantities in India’s groundwater across 16 states.

This is the first time that the extent of uranium present in the country’s groundwater has been evaluated. The study, conducted by researchers of Duke University, North Carolina, USA, suggests that human factors serve as a catalyst taking natural uranium levels to dangerous heights.

According to a study in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters, the prevalence of uranium in the country’s groundwater is well above the acceptable standard set forth by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But, as of now, India doesn’t follow any standards to monitor uranium levels.

Groundwater depletion and nitrate pollution are problems that India is already familiar with. Duke University’s analysis shows that water wells and aquifers, are both subjected to extreme uranium exposure. The water that flows in, has already traveled from the Himalayas passing through uranium-rich granitic rocks along the way. Thus, the primary source of uranium is geogenic or naturally occurring.

It’s only once this water is over-pumped from the aquifers that the anthropogenic, or the human aspect, of the cause-effect relationship is introduced into the equation. The water depletion, in turn, induces oxidation. Basically, whatever water’s left in the well gets enriched with uranium, the study notes.

Although nature and humans bear the brunt of the problem, they’re not the only factors that determine the amount of uranium in the ground water. Using data from geochemical and uranium isotopes, the researchers were able to discern that other aspects like oxidation state, groundwater chemistry and aquifer rocks also had a part to play in the level of uranium.

Despite the WHO setting a standard of 30 micrograms of uranium per litre, the chemical is yet to be introduced into the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specifications. If nothing else, risk areas should be identified so that outbreaks of cancer and kidney failure can be avoided.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, Indoasiancommodities.com. He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at shekhar.ghosh@indoasiancommodities.in.

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