Pollution and Disease in Punjab

In the Faridkot centre… Harmanbir Kaur, 15, was rocking gently backwards and forwards. When her test results came back, they showed she had 10 times the safe limit of uranium in her body. Her brother, Naunihal Singh, six, has double the safe level. [link]

baba_farid_center.JPGAn article in The Observer discusses the link between the dramatic rise in birth defects in Punjab and pollution from coal-fired power stations. Many of the children are being treated in Faridkot and at the Baba Farid centers for special children in Bathinda, where there are two coal-fired thermal plants. Staff at these clinics had noticed an increase in the incidence of severely handicapped children who were born with hydroencephaly, microencephaly, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome and other complications. They suspected environmental poisoning.

The healthcare workers rightfully voiced their concerns about this and wondered, if some children werebeing treated, how many more were being affected? As with governments other dirty little secrets, staff at the clinics were visited and threatened if they spoke out. In addition, a visiting South African toxicologist arranged for tests to be carried out and found that the children had massive levels of uranium in their bodies, in one case more than 60 times the maximum safe limit. The scientist was later warned by the authorities that she may not be allowed back into the country.

Dr Pritpal Singh, who runs the Faridkot clinic, said the numbers of children affected by the pollution had risen dramatically in the past six or seven years. But he added that the Indian authorities appeared determined to bury the scandal. “They can’t just detoxify these kids, they have to detoxify the whole Punjab. That is the reason for their reluctance,” he said. “They threatened us and said if we didn’t stop commenting on what’s happening, they would close our clinic. “But I decided that if I kept silent it would go on for years and no one would do anything about it. If I keep silent then the next day it will be my child. The children are dying in front of me.”

The article notes that Indias reluctance to acknowledge and address the problem is hardly surprising as the country is heavily committed to an expansion of thermal plants in Punjab and other states. In the meantime, children are being poisoned twice once by the environment and secondly by the government. It is our role to continue bringing awareness to thesehuman rights violations andvoice our protest to how this community in Punjab is beingneglected.


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6 Responses to “Pollution and Disease in Punjab”

  1. Harinder says:

    Langar hall writers should attempt to bring statistics (numbers )into their articles so as to bring objectivity into discussion.

    Like in this case three statistics could have been more illuminating and less scaring

    1) The incidence of birth defect before and after the start of thermal plant could have been quoted.

    2)Alternatively the incidence of birth defect amongst population in other parts of India where thermal plants are functioning can be compared with those in Punjab .

    3) Thirdly Uranium level can be measured in population outside Punjab where thermal plants are functioning.

    If their is a statistically increase in birth defect then the local population should be given a choice to have or not to have the thermal project in their neighbourhood.

    As for numbers and reality I quote:-

    Indeed, we have seen that he adopted an operational "measurement=meaning" principle according to which the meaningfulness of a physical quantity was equivalent to the existence of an experiment purporting to measure that quantity. Similarly, his "measurement=creation" principle allowed him to attribute physical reality to such quantities.

    "Werner Heisenberg"

  2. Harinder says:

    Langar hall writers should attempt to bring statistics (numbers )into their articles so as to bring objectivity into discussion.

    Like in this case three statistics could have been more illuminating and less scaring

    1) The incidence of birth defect before and after the start of thermal plant could have been quoted.

    2)Alternatively the incidence of birth defect amongst population in other parts of India where thermal plants are functioning can be compared with those in Punjab .

    3) Thirdly Uranium level can be measured in population outside Punjab where thermal plants are functioning.

    If their is a statistically increase in birth defect then the local population should be given a choice to have or not to have the thermal project in their neighbourhood.

    As for numbers and reality I quote:-

    Indeed, we have seen that he adopted an operational “measurement=meaning” principle according to which the meaningfulness of a physical quantity was equivalent to the existence of an experiment purporting to measure that quantity. Similarly, his “measurement=creation” principle allowed him to attribute physical reality to such quantities.

    “Werner Heisenberg”

  3. Sundari says:

    Harinder – A lack of statistics does not mean the problem does not exist. If you read the entire article, it does mention statistics regarding recorded levels of Uranium in the ground water:

    tests recorded levels of uranium in the ground water as high as 224mcg/l (micrograms per litre) – 15 times higher than the safe level of 15mcg/l recommended by the WHO. (The US Environmental Protection Agency sets a maximum safe level of 20mcg/l.)

    I don't know how somehow those numbers make the problem more important.

    It may just be me, but i don't understand the significance of the last portion of your comments.

  4. Rajinder Singh says:

    Coal fired power plants are well known polluters contributing to global warming. Coal is a cheaper fuel, and almost 50% of electricity even in the US comes from coal fired power plants. NOX, SOX, and Carbon emissions from coal fired power plants are almost double to three times similar emissions from natural gas fired power plants.. In fact China is further ahead than India in terms of bringing coal fired power plants to the grid. A major problem is that emission standards in India and China are lower and enforcement is lax. (Low emission equipment is costlier).

    The current worldwide trend of building up of power plants is unsustainable without effects on the environment. Alternates to coal like nuclear, wind, geothermal , hydro, bio-waste, and especially solar need to be encouraged. This requires public policy makers to be thinking for the next 100 yrs. Short term expediency wins out most of the time.

    This article is corroborating pollution results from other parts of the world. It must be noted that communities in the vicinity of polluting power plants generally tend to be poorer, and pay an above average price per unit of electricity, due to hidden health costs that they bear from pollution.

    In the case of Punjab one does wonder why electricity from the hydro plant at Bhakra doesn't serve Punjab first, especially when it is not an industrial power house.

  5. Sundari says:

    Harinder – A lack of statistics does not mean the problem does not exist. If you read the entire article, it does mention statistics regarding recorded levels of Uranium in the ground water:

    tests recorded levels of uranium in the ground water as high as 224mcg/l (micrograms per litre) 15 times higher than the safe level of 15mcg/l recommended by the WHO. (The US Environmental Protection Agency sets a maximum safe level of 20mcg/l.)

    I don’t know how somehow those numbers make the problem more important.

    It may just be me, but i don’t understand the significance of the last portion of your comments.

  6. Rajinder Singh says:

    Coal fired power plants are well known polluters contributing to global warming. Coal is a cheaper fuel, and almost 50% of electricity even in the US comes from coal fired power plants. NOX, SOX, and Carbon emissions from coal fired power plants are almost double to three times similar emissions from natural gas fired power plants.. In fact China is further ahead than India in terms of bringing coal fired power plants to the grid. A major problem is that emission standards in India and China are lower and enforcement is lax. (Low emission equipment is costlier).

    The current worldwide trend of building up of power plants is unsustainable without effects on the environment. Alternates to coal like nuclear, wind, geothermal , hydro, bio-waste, and especially solar need to be encouraged. This requires public policy makers to be thinking for the next 100 yrs. Short term expediency wins out most of the time.

    This article is corroborating pollution results from other parts of the world. It must be noted that communities in the vicinity of polluting power plants generally tend to be poorer, and pay an above average price per unit of electricity, due to hidden health costs that they bear from pollution.

    In the case of Punjab one does wonder why electricity from the hydro plant at Bhakra doesn’t serve Punjab first, especially when it is not an industrial power house.

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