Friday, August 29, 2008

Toxic Parthenium grass spreading in Ranchi city of Jharkhand State, India.

Toxic Parthenium grass spreading in Ranchi city of Jharkhand State, India.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

Fig: Parthenium around State Pollution Control Board

Cases of breathlessness and asthma due to pollution through different sources - air, water and pollen –may rise alarmingly in the city of Ranchi the capital of Jharkhand State of India. Threat comes from rapid growth of Parthenium grass, better known as “Congress Grass”.
People of Ranchi and its adjoining areas are going to be affected with asthma, Allergic, Trinities Sinusitis, dermatitis (type of skin disease) especially among the childrens, Eczema, Allergic papules and all types of Allergic reactions.
It cannot be said that above mentioned diseases were not common in Ranchi earlier. Climate of Ranchi unfortunately favours such types of diseases, but with the growth of parthenium this diseases are going to multiply affecting more people.
The most vulnerable areas are outskirts of Ranchi city like HEC township, SAIL and MECON and Harmu colonies. These are places where the weed is found in plenty and it has been seen spreading to other parts of the city. The most interesting is that weeds has also surrounded Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board office in HEC area.
What is the Municipal Corporation of Ranchi doing to check the growth of this parthenium grass?

Parthenium weed's botanical name is Parthenium Hystrophorous. It is a herbaceous plant, and a native of Tropical America. It is an annual herb and has a deep taproot and erect stem, which becomes woody with age. Parthenium weed leaves are deeply lobed. It is pale green in colour and has soft hair. Parthenium weed flower is creamy white in color. The weed has a large number of stems. It has small (1-2mm long) black seeds with white scales. They are not visible to the naked eye. It has been declared noxious in America, Australia, India and many other countries especially those having tropical climates.
A single plant can produce 10,000 to 15,000 viable seeds that occupy roadsides, tank bunds, fence lines, waste lands, agricultural fields etc.

This plant has covered most parts of the HEC areas, especially along the roadsides, and the waste lands around J.N. College campus, and it is rapidly moving towards the center of the City. This spreading is going to cause many serious health problems to the people of Ranchi.
If it intrudes into the agricultural domain productivity is definitely going to be adversely affected.
Just few years ago Ranchi was free from such toxic plants but now this weed has shown its presence threatening the health of the Ranchi people.
It squeezes grasslands and pastures, reducing the fodder supply. Scientists describe it as a "poisonous, allergic and aggressive weed posing a serious threat to human beings and livestock."
The presence of parthenium in cropped lands results in yield reduction up to 40 per cent. It is also responsible for bitter milk disease in livestock fed on grass mixed with parthenium.
Probing biological pollutant, highly successful in distribution. No species of the past or the present century can ever match with this.
The reasons for its fast spread are: (l) High germination ability throughout the year, (2) Large seed production ability, (3) High survival rate, (4) Extreme adaptability in a wide range of habitats. (5) Easy dispersal of seeds.
From the day it was perceived as a menace, efforts are being made to control the weed by different methods. But so far, no single method appears to be satisfactory, as each method suffers from one or more limitations, such as high cost, impracticability, environmental safety, tem and Mechanical Eradication It is observed that cutting or slashing of parthenium enhances its regeneration. So uprooting manually is the finest option. During the rainy season, the soil remains wet and hence manual or mechanical removal can be done before the onset of flowering with people's participation. This operation should be started before blooming as uprooting after fruit setting will be a sheer waste of time and money. As manual removal is not cost effective, it can be advocated only in limited situations. If it becomes imperative to use labour, they should be equipped with protective measures including ascertaining their parthenium sensitiveness.
During the last few years much emphasis has been laid on controlling parthenium through various biological agents like insects, pathogens and by creating competition that result in 'survival of the fittest'. In the recent past, this approach gained momentum to do away with unwanted plants. Experimentally, it was found that Cassia species can control parthenium. C.sericea(C.uniflora), a non-nitrogen fixing leguminous herb, colonizes more aggressively without giving scope for Parthenium to manifest. Cassia can be encouraged either from wild source or by introducing it in targeted areas.
Problems associated with Parthenium:
1. It is a vigorous species, which colonizes in grassy land . It grows rapidly in bare areas along
roadsides and water points.
2. It reduces the production of pasture.
3. It is very expensive to control.
4. It is a major health hazard to human beings.
5. It emits carbon dioxide and hence, poses a problem to nitrogen fixation and becomes a
parasite, dependent on standing crops and animals in its vicinity.
6. Its pollens are a major cause of asthma, especially in children and elderly people.
7. It is a major cause of Allergic, Trinities Sinusitis, affecting about ten percent of the people who
live near it.
8. It is a major cause of dermatitis, a skin disease, among animals and human being.
9. It reduces yield of milk and weight of animals.
10.It causes irritation to eyes.
There is need for people and residents' welfare associations to put their heads together and declare a war on parthenium weed so that further growth in city areas could be checked. This will go a long way in the interest of the poor sufferers of asthma and other allergy-related disorders.
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