DR. Nitish Priyadarshi
The health hazards, degeneration of the health conditions of the people especially tribal women and children and water contamination is one of the most serious impacts of coal mining in Jharkhand.
Jharkhand is an area of abundant coalmines. Most of the coalmines are situated in Hazaribag, Chatra, Palamau, Rajmahal, Dhanbad and Ranchi district. Mighty Damodar River and its tributaries flow through these coalmines.
Jharkhand is the homeland of over a dozen indigenous communities, the major ones being the Santhals, the Mundas, the Oraons and the Hos. Most of their population are concentrated around the coal mines area.
Today, the picture of Damodar River or Damuda, considered a sacred river by the local tribals, is quite like a sewage canal shrunken and filled with filth and rubbish, emanating obnoxious odours. This river once known as “River of Sorrow” for its seasonal ravages, has now turned into a “River of Agony” from the environmental point of view.
Due to extensive coal mining and vigorous growth of industries in this area water resources have been badly contaminated. The habitants have, however, been compromising by taking contaminated and sometimes polluted water, as there is no alternative source of safe drinking water. Thus, a sizeable populace suffers from water borne diseases.
The Damodar river basin is a repository of approximately 46 per cent of the Indian coal reserves. A high demographic and industrial expansion has taken place in last three decades in the region. Exploitation of coal by underground and open cast mining has lead to a great environmental threat in this area.
Besides mining, coal based industries like coal washeries, coke oven plants, coal fired thermal power plants, steel plants and other related industries in the region also greatly impart towards degradation of the environmental equality vis-a-vis human health.
The most affected part of the natural- resources is water in this region and thereby human health.
It is a small rainfed river (541 km long) originating from the Khamerpet hill (1068 m), near the trijunction of Palamau, Ranchi, and Hazaribag districts of Jharkhand. It flows through the cities Ramgarh, Dhanbad, Asansol, Durgapur, Bardwan and Howrah before ultimately joining the lower Ganga (Hooghly estuary) at Shayampur, 55 km downstream of Howrah. The river is fed by a number of tributaries at different reaches, the principal ones being Jamunia, Bokaro, Konar, Safi, Bhera, Nalkari and Barakar.
The total catchment area of the basin is about 23,170 km of this, three- fourth of the basin lies in Jharkhand and one-fourth in West Bengal. The major part of the rainfall (82%) occurs during the monsoon season with a few sporadic rains in winter. Damodar basin is an important coal bearing area and at least seven coal fields are located in this region.
High increase in the population i.e. from 5.0 million (1951) to 14.6 mil- lion (1991) has been observed during the last four decades which is the out- come of the heavy industrialisation in this basin mainly in coal sector.
Due to easy availability of coal and prime cooking coal, several thermal power plants, steel plants have grown up. Discharge of uncontrolled and untreated industrial wastewater, often containing highly toxic metals is the major source of pollution of Damodar River.
Mine water and runoff through overburden material of open cast mines also contribute towards pollution of nearby water resources of the area. Huge amount of overburden materials have been dumped on the bank of the river and its tributaries, which finally get spread in the rivers especially in the rainy season. These activities have resulted in the visible deterioration of the quality of the river water.
The large scale mining operations going on this region have also adversely affected ground water table in many areas with the result that yield of water from the wells of adjoining villages has drastically reduced. Further, effluents discharged from the mine sites have also seriously, polluted the underground water of the area.
Mine water does not have acid mine drainage problem. It may be due to the fact that coal deposits of this basin are associated with minor amounts of pyrites and contain low Sulphur. Iron content in this water is found in the range of 1 to 6 mg/1. Though it is not alarming but it may be toxic to some aquatic species. Mine water is generally bacterially contaminated which is clear from the value lying in the range of 100 to 2500.
Heavy metals like manganese, chromium, lead, arsenic, mercury, floride, cadmium, and copper are also found in the sediments and water of Damodar river and its tributary like Safi River. Permian coal of this area contains all these toxic elements in considerable amount. Presence of lead is high above the alarming level i.e. 300 ppm (parts Per million) in the coals of North Karanpura coal field.
The study warned that long term exposure to the lead present in that area might result in general weakness, anorexia, dyspepsia, metallic taste in the mouth, headache, drowsiness, high blood pressure and anaemia etc.
The Damodar sediments are deficient in calcium and magnesium and rich in potassium concentration. Titanium and iron are the dominant heavy metals followed by manganese, zine, copper, chromium, lead, arsenic, and mercury. Other heavy metal like strontium shows more or less uniform concentration throughout the basin. Average concentration of strontium in the sediments of the river is 130 ppm. Silica is also high in the sediments of Damodar River and its tributary. The value is 28ppm.
Arsenic in the water ranges from 0.001 to 0.06 mg/1, mercury ranges from 0.0002 to 0.004 mg/1, floride ranges from 1 to 3 mg/1.
It is obvious that due to extensive coal mining and vigorous growth of industries in this area water resources have been badly contaminated. The habitants have, however, been compromising by taking contaminated and sometimes polluted water, as there is no alternate source of drinking water. Thus, a sizeable populace suffers from water borne diseases.
As per the heath survey of about three lakh people, the most common diseases are dysentery, diarrhoea, skin infection, worm infection, jaundice, and typhoid. Dysentery and skin infections occur in high percentage in the area. If proper steps are not taken up the total population mostly tribals will be on the verge of extinction.
The Agaria tribe and other tribes that inhabit the coalfields of North Karanpura and East Parej, India are faced with severe water contamination. In East Parej, more than 80% of the community lives in poverty. Water for the community comes from hand pumps, dug wells, local streams and rivers. In some areas, mine water and river water is supplied through pipes. But most people are dependent on other sources - which are contaminated - for their water needs. Women and children in these areas have to travel more than 1 kilometer to fetch safe drinking water. Most villagers are left with no choice but to drink contaminated water. Dug wells are generally dried up during the summer and winter. Natural drainage is obstructed and diverted due to the expansion of mining. Villagers in these areas have no concept of how to preserve and purify rainwater.
Our longevity has reduced drastically, said Phulmani Kujur a 38 year old women of East Parej coal field. We avoid taking bath everyday, there are a gap of 5 to 10 days, and do not drink water adequately due to water pollution, said Mahesh a Santhal Tribe of the same village.
Study reveals that average longevity of women in East Parej coal field was found to be 45 and in most of the villages only one or two women had crossed the age of 60. In North Karanpura coal field average longevity of male is 50 years and that of female is 45 years.
The number of deaths in a period of five years, in East Parej, also reveals shocking figures in Dudhmatia village: 6 out of average 80 people, in Agariatola village: 12 out of average 100 people, in Lapangtandi: 13 out of average 115 people, and in Ulhara: 9 (seven were children) out of average 80 people.
Villagers of Agariatola complain that their only source of drinking water has been damaged due to dumping of overburden and expansion of open cast mine. Villagers have no substitute but to drink the water of well provided by the miners which according to the villagers is not good in taste with foul smell and yellow colour. Villagers of Dudhmatia of the same coal field complained about foul smell present in the water of the only hand pump.
Average kilometers travel by the villagers to retrieve safe drinking water is 1 to 2 kilometers. In summer season we have to travel even more to have safe drinking water, alleged women of the affected areas. Sometimes organizations supply us the water through tankers but they are not sufficient, said villagers of the East Parej, North Karanpura and South Karanpura coal field.
In the absence of even primary hospital and doctors in East Parej (there is only one hospital run by Central Coalfields Limited, and is for the employees only) villagers are more dependent on the quacks as they are the regular visitor in the remote area.
Our children are the most affected due to living in such unhygienic conditions and filth, said villagers of the North Karanpura coal field, one of the biggest coal mines of the area.
These are one of the most common situations in all the coal mines area of Jharkhand. Most of the population in North Karanpura coal field is dependent on Safi River for drinking and other domestic purposes. This river is polluted because of the coalmines waste dumped along the banks of the river at different locations. Water of the area is contaminated with toxic metals like arsenic and mercury. Manganese has crossed the toxic level ( 3.6 milligram per liter against the permissible level of 0.5 mg/l.). According to WHO (World Health Organization) high manganese may affect with the symptoms like lethargy, increased muscle tone and mental disturbances.
Health survey done among the boys and girls in a local school it was found that majority of the children (both tribal and non-tribal) are lethargic may be due to inhalation of coal dust and consumption of contaminated water containing high manganese.
In the coal fields of Jharkhand most of the tribal women are employed in secondary activities such as loading and unloading of the coals. According to Chotanagpur Adivasi Sewa Samiti, a NGO working in Hazaribag district, constant contact with dust pollution and indirectly through contamination of water, air, etc. cause severe health hazard to women workers. As majority of the women workers are contract labourers, and paid on daily wage basis there is no economic security or compensation paid due to loss of workdays on account of health problems. Even during pregnancy women has to work in hazardous conditions amidst noise, air pollution that have adverse affects on their offspring.
Malaria is very common. It is found that there are numerous ditches, stagnant mine water, and open tanks breeding all the species mosquitoes. Majorities of the death were attributed to malaria. Next come the skin diseases such as eczema, rashes on the skin etc. it may be due to lack of care and cleanliness or due to the presence of nickel in drinking water. In some area like East Parej high nickel (0.024 mg/l) have been reported in the water. According to WHO nickel is a common skin allergen.
Many especially children of the coal fields suffer from dysentery and diarrhoea. According to the residents of the coal field, it is because of consuming contaminated water. About 60% of the local people are affected with seasonal allergies. Other diseases found were tuberculosis, headache, joints pain (pain begins at the age of 5 to 10 years, especially in North Karanpura), gastric, cough and cold and asthma.
When asked from the villagers in East Parej and North Karanpura about what do they think about future, they replied situation is going to worsen. They are not very confident about their life span. There is always a threat of displacement due to expansion of coal mining, which finally affects their longevity.
Fluoride, arsenic, nickel, sulfate, and manganese pose the biggest threats to water sources in the region. They have been shown to cause adverse effects when consumed over a long period of time. Health care facilities can improve the situation immensely, but it is more desirable to maintain the philosophy that prevention is better than the cure. Medical checkups can be adopted to improve the situation. Installation of pollution control equipment is needed for monitoring and analyzing pollution data. Seeing that nearly all the water sources under study are contaminated, the only short term solution for safe drinking water is rain water harvesting. Indigenous methods, such as disinfecting and purifying water with the help of medicinal plants, can be adopted for purifying water in ways that are cost efficient.
The international community can also help by providing funds to carry out research and analysis of the problem in more detail. Publishing these results can help other communities around the world figure out the best methods for improving water quality. Awareness programs should be given major importance.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
And Fellow Member of Geological Society of India.
76, circular road,
Tel.no. 0651-2562895/ 2562909
These research project was sponsored to the author by Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and Green Grant Fund, U.S.A. and supported by Earth Day Network, U.S.A.