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Yamuna is dying, must be saved without delay

Source :Niti Central,October 31, 2013, New Delhi

URL :Yamuna is dying, must be saved without delay

Yamuna is the lifeline of Delhi as about 70 per cent of city’s population and a bird sanctuary is dependent on it for its daily water needs.

In the last two decades, more than Rs 1000 crore have been spent by the Government of India under Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) Phase 1 and 2 in an effort to clean Yamuna and there are plans to spend another Rs 1650 crore under YAP phase 3. Unfortunately, the river continues to remain among the most polluted in the world.

What is more disturbing is that according to noted biologist Arif Ali, Former Head, Department of Biotechnology, Jamia Millia Islamia, the Yamuna is heavily contaminated with mercury which can cause mercury poisoning.

“Mercury poisoning can happen if one gets exposed to mercury-contaminated water, food or even through an occupational exposure. Mercury is not cyanide, it is like slow poisoning and most doctors cannot even diagnose metal poisoning. Only very recently have doctors started advising their patients to go for mercury tests,” says Anu Agarwal, Coordinator, Toxics Free Health Care Team, Toxics Link.

“There is hardly any documentation to determine how many deaths have occurred in India because of mercury poisoning. Of late doctors have been seeing links between mercury poisoning and autism. Mercury poisoning can also lead to still births, kidney failure, cancer, and reduced immune responses,” she added.

The World Health Organisation guideline says that if one litre of water has anything above 1 microgram of mercury contamination, it is unfit for human consumption. According to Arif Ali, Yamuna water has about three micrograms of mercury per litre of water — way above the prescribed limit.

“It is difficult to detect the presence of mercury in water because it is only found in traces and even then it is dangerous to any kind of life form,” said Arif Ali.

At this point a question does arise as to how can we then find out if the we drink is not contaminated with mercury. It was this question which led Professor Arif Ali to develop an indigenous bio-sensor which could detect the presence of heavy metal like mercury in water on the spot in the field.

Yamuna is dying, must be saved without delay“A bio-sensor is a device for the detection of a substance which utilises essentially any component of biological origin. The idea behind developing a bio-sensor was to make a portable gadget for rapid detection of heavy metals like mercury on the spot in the field. With the help of this device we can easily determine if the water in a water body is suitable for drinking purposes or not.” said Arif Ali.

Explaining the functioning of the bio-sensor, award-winning biologist Professor Arif Ali said, “In this device we have fused together the gene of a bacteria called E coli (a bacteria capable of detecting the presence of mercury in water) with the gene of a self illuminating bacteria called Vibrio Fischeri through genetic engineering.”

“When this device comes in contact with mercury contaminated water it glows emitting a pale green light. It was through this bio luminescent bio-sensor that we have proved that Yamuna is heavily polluted with mercury,” he added.

According to Professor Arif Ali there are other methods for detecting the presence of mercury in water, but these methods are very expensive and secondly they are not environmental friendly.

Applauding the work done by Professor Arif Ali for his work, Professor Jugsharan Singh Virdi who is himself a noted micro biologist from the University of Delhi South campus said, ” Heavy metals are very toxic substance and are dangerous to all forms of life. Professor Arif Ali has been working on heavy metals for years now andbio-sensors are very much needed for the detection of heavy metals in water.bio-sensors is the GenNext Technology for the detection of heavy metal in water.”

Commenting upon his findings Professor Arif Ali said Yamuna water needs to be further treated before supplying it for human consumption.

“Unfortunately the Government machinery is not following the prescribed procedure for water treatment and thereby jeopardising the health of the nation,” said Arif Ali.

Supporting Arif Ali’s point of view Prashant Rajankar, Senior Programme Officer for Chemical and Health Programme in Toxics Link, said, “Even after spending such huge amounts of money the ground realities have remained unchanged for Yamuna.”

According to Arif Ali, if something is not done immediately to restore the balance in the ecosystem, things could take a turn for the worse.

“If this irresponsible human behaviour continues, a time will come when we will have to pay for clean air as well,” said Arif Ali.

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