Severe uranium contamination in India’s groundwater

When over-pumping of aquifers’ groundwater occurs and their water levels decline, it induces oxidation conditions that, in turn, enhance uranium enrichment in the shallow groundwater that remains.

While the primary source of uranium is geogenic (naturally occurring), anthropogenic (human-caused) factors such as groundwater table decline and nitrate pollution may further enhance uranium mobilization.

Other factors include the amount of uranium contained in an aquifer’s rocks; water-rock interactions that cause the uranium to be extracted from those rocks; oxidation conditions that enhance the extracted uranium’s solubility in water; and the interaction of the extracted uranium with other chemicals in the groundwater, such as bicarbonate, which can further enhance its solubility.

There is a need for revision of the current water quality monitoring program in India, evaluation of human health risks in areas of high uranium prevalence, development of adequate remediation technologies, and, above all, implementation of preventive management practices to address this problem.

Including a uranium standard in the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specification based on uranium’s kidney-harming effects, establishing monitoring systems to identify at-risk areas, and exploring new ways to prevent or treat uranium contamination will help ensure access to safe drinking water for tens of millions in India.

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Taj Declaration to Beat Plastic Pollution adopted in Agra

Taj Declaration to Beat Plastic Pollution was adopted here today as part of which efforts would be made to make the 500-meter area around the historic ivory-white marble monument litter-free and phase out the single-use plastic.

The adoption of the declaration – in presence of Minister of State for Environment Mahesh Sharma, UN Environment Programme Executive Director Erik Solheim, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Diya Mirza – came ahead of the World Environment Day on June 5.

Before the adoption of the declaration, the Culture Ministry held a stake-holders’ workshop chaired by Sharma.

The workshop focussed on curbing pollution near the 17th-century monument and drawing short-term and long-term plans to deal with the problem.

According to an official statement, a pledge was taken to make the 500-meter area around the Taj Mahal litter-free and take steps to phase out single-use plastic from the area.

Solheim expressed happiness that the UN slogan of Beat Plastic Pollution for this year’s Environment Day on June 5 is being highlighted from the Taj Mahal. The coming together of all the stake-holders is heartening, he said.

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Worsening air quality major cause of premature deaths, study finds

Worsening air quality in the last two decades has emerged as one of the major reasons for high numbers of premature deaths, says a new study conducted in 11 north Indian cities.

The findings titled ‘Know what you breathe’, released, were researched by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi in collaboration with environmental NGO Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED). The report found annual mortality linked to air pollution to be in the range of 150-300 persons per 1 lakh population.

The study was conducted in seven cities of Uttar Pradesh (Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Varanasi, and Gorakhpur), three cities of Bihar (Patna, Gaya, and Muzaffarpur), and the capital of Jharkhand, Ranchi.

 

Kanpur recorded the highest number of premature deaths per year (4,173) due to chronic exposure to air pollution, followed by Lucknow (4,127), Agra (2,421), Meerut (2,044), Varanasi (1,581), Allahabad (1,443) and Gorakhpur (914).

The study calculated the annual “mortality burden” through averages of recorded deaths caused due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), coronary disease, stroke, and lung cancer, in these cities. COPD was the largest cause of the deaths (at 29.7%) and lung cancer the lowest (0.6%).

The largest share in total burden was attributed to ALRI in Agra and Meerut, and to COPD in Allahabad, Gaya, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, Patna, Muzaffarpur and Varanasi.

The estimates should not be perceived as instant deaths, said the report, clarifying that they represent premature (earlier than the expected lifetime of the Indian population) deaths due to chronic exposure from pollution. However, “it isn’t possible to validate these estimates, as cause-specific mortality data do not exist in India,” said the report authored by Dr. Sagnik Dey, Associate Professor, Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, IIT-Delhi.

Premature mortality burden would reduce by 14%-28% annually with the achievement of Indian air quality standards in these cities, the report said.

The report found levels of PM2.5 exposure moving downward from west to east of the Indo-Gangetic plain with the highest proliferation in Varanasi and the lowest in Ranchi. The report has indicated an increase of 28.5 microgram / m3 in PM 2.5 in the last 17 years in Varanasi.

The annual particular matter exposure was the highest in Meerut, with an “alarming” figure of 99.2 ug/M3 (microgram per cubic metre), followed by Agra (91) and Lucknow (83.5).

The study has attributed residential (cooking, heating, and lighting) sources as the largest contributors to annual ambient PM2.5 concentration (73.8%) followed by industry (11.7%), transport (9.8%) and energy sectors (4.6%).

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International Biodiversity Day 2018: tracking new species discovered in India

Every year May 22 is observed as The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase awareness on various biodiversity issues such as habitat destruction, marine pollution, and climate change.

It was first observed in 1993 by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly.

In 2000, May 22 was chosen as The International Day for Biological Diversity to commemorate the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is an international legal agreement ratified by 196 nations for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources”.

The theme for 2018 is “Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity.”

Marking this day, here is a list of new species discovered in the last year in India.

About CBD:

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for “sustainable development” — meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations. One of the key agreements adopted at Rio was the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is the international legal instrument for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” that has been ratified by 196 nations.

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Habitat loss may have triggered Nipah outbreak

Can human-caused factors like habitat loss and climate change trigger outbreaks such as the recent Nipah cases in Kerala? Existing literature does hint at this possibility.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, there is “strong evidence” that the emergence of bat-related viral infections can be attributed to the loss of the animal’s natural habitats. “As the flying fox [fruit bat] habitat is destroyed by human activity, the bats get stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva,” the report adds.

Environmental stress:

“There are studies on Hendra and Nipah viruses that hint at reproductive and nutritional stress [fewer food resources] as potential role players in virus spillover,”

In the case of the Hendra virus — the Nipah equivalent in Australia — scientists found that when fruit bats are stressed (through habitat fragmentation, habitat reduction, and physiological stress), the percentage of bats infected with the virus increases drastically, increasing the likelihood of passing it to humans through horses.

Nutritional stress through the loss of food resources — a direct consequence of habitat loss and climate change — brings bats closer to urban areas. According to a study in Malaysia, rapid urbanization of bat-rich rainforests contributed to the emergence of Nipah virus there: the regions most adversely affected were those that suffered from maximum deforestation. Forest fragmentation and hunting bats for food also bring them closer to humans and is often an important cause of disease transmission, says Rohit Chakravarty who studies bats in India.

Conservationists worry that the recent Nipah outbreak could cause a knee-jerk reaction of calls for bat culling. Culling bat populations may seem like an easy solution — and has been tried in Australia — but studies warn that instead of reducing the outbreak of such zoonotic diseases, it could cause even more damage, chiefly ecological.

That’s because about a quarter of the more than 1,300 bat species seen worldwide feed on fruit and nectar and are crucial pollinators (of fruit trees, including mango, guava, and banana), helping maintain genetic diversity in agricultural systems. They are also important seed dispersers; other bat species help bring rodent and insect numbers under control.

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NMCG asks DDA to expedite “Asita”, its Yamuna River Front Development Project

The Director-General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) Shri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra inspected the Yamuna River Front Development (RFD) project being implemented by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) today and asked officials to expedite the work.

 

Yamuna RFD project aims to restore, revive and rejuvenate the river’s floodplains and make them accessible to the people of Delhi. River Front “walks”, a major component of the project will enable people to develop a relationship with river Yamuna.

A special focus of the project is on reviving the river’s biodiversity in the National Capital.

About Asita:

Asita, also known as Yamuna River Front Development (RFD) project, aims to restore, revive and rejuvenate the river’s floodplains and make them accessible to the people of Delhi. “Asita” is another name of river Yamuna.

A special focus of the project is on reviving the river’s biodiversity in the National Capital.

River Front “walks”, a major component of the project will enable people to develop a relationship with river Yamuna.

The project envisages creating a green buffer area approx. 300mts wide along the river edge with species of riverine ecology. Besides, a wide belt of 150mts along the peripheral roads will be developed as greenways for public amenities that will include a continuous trail of pathways and cycle tracks.

To revive the ecosystem of the floodplains, wetlands will be created to store the flood waters and also to improve the groundwater recharge which will eventually result in the flourishing of biodiversity in the floodplains.

An environmentally conscious approach for integration of the river into the urban fabric of the city has been adopted. A people-friendly bio-diversity zone will be created for people to interact freely with the river’s eco-system.

The Yamuna was declared a dead river. The dissolved oxygen level, which is crucial to life in the water, is negligible. The river usually flows with heavy toxic foam on its surface and often parts of the river actually catch fire. Ostensibly, in the last 22 years, over Rs. 2,000 crores has been spent on the clean-up of the Yamuna.

Yamuna River:

The Yamuna is the tributary of river Ganga. It originates from the Yamunotri Glacier at a height of 6,387 meters on the southwestern slopes of Banderpooch peaks in the uppermost region of the Lower Himalayas in Uttarakhand. It merges with the Ganges at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, the site for the Kumbha Mela.

 

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‘India’s freshwater stocks in danger’

India is among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a sharp decline in the availability of freshwater, according to a first-of-its-kind study using an array of NASA satellite observations of the earth.

Scientists led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the U.S. used data on human activities to map locations where the availability of freshwater is rapidly changing.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that wetter parts of the earth were getting wetter and dry areas getting drier due to a variety of factors, including human water use, climate change, and natural cycles.

Areas in northern and eastern India, West Asia, California, and Australia are among the hotspots where overuse of water resources has caused a serious decline in the availability of freshwater, the study said.

In northern India, groundwater extraction for irrigation of wheat and rice crops has led to depletion, despite rainfall being normal throughout the period studied, the report said.

The fact that extractions already exceed recharge during normal precipitation does not bode well for the availability of groundwater during future droughts, the researchers said.

The team used 14 years of observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world.

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Newest frog for India from Karnataka

The Mangaluru narrow-mouthed frog is found only in a small industrial space in the city.

The latest addition to India’s frog fauna is the Mangaluru narrow-mouthed frog, which has been found in a small industrial region in coastal Karnataka.

The new find, described by a team of Indian scientists in the international journal Zootaxa on Tuesday, is christened Microhyla kodial after the city of Mangaluru (called kodial in the Konkani language) from where they spotted it two years ago.

The frog is seen only in a small industrial region here — a former timber dumping yard — surrounded by seaport, petrochemical, chemical and refinery industries. The yard is bounded by the rail line of the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited on one side and the busy National Highway 66 on another.

The frog’s presence in this urban area could have been easily overlooked given its small size too: the greyish-brown frog is just 2 cm long. A thick olive-green band on its head, less-prominent dark green bands on the rest of its body and a few other physical features also set it apart from other similar-looking frogs. However, it was the frog’s very distinct loud, long calls that prompted the study’s lead author Vineeth Kumar (of Karnataka’s Mangalore University) and his colleagues to study it further.

While the team’s surveys showed that the frogs are not seen outside of the urban area, behavioral observations revealed that the frogs breed only during the monsoon. Detailed genetic studies proved the team’s hunch right: the frogs were indeed a species new to science. Accidentally introduced? Interestingly, the scientists’ genetic work also reveals that the Mangaluru narrow-mouthed frog is more closely related to Southeast Asian frogs than Indian frogs. The industrial patch where the frogs are currently found used to be a depot for timber imported from southeast Asia; therefore, the frogs could have been accidentally introduced with timber that came from Myanmar, Malaysia, and Indonesia, write the scientists.

 

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