Student Researchers: Claire Apatoff, Erin Kielty, Tom Rich
Faculty Evaluator: Rich Martoglio, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, DePauw University
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, DePauw University
The U.K Observer reported that an overwhelming rise in the number of children from Punjabi, India, who were born with birth defects, mental abnormalities, and cancer has increased within the past few years.
The rise in the number of birth defects has brought a team of visiting scientists to test children to determine the root of the problem. South African scientists found the children had enormous amounts of uranium in their bodies, including one child with 60 times the safe limit.
Uranium is naturally found in the world, yet the large amount in the children’s bodies alerted Dr. Singh, a doctor who runs the Faridkot clinic in India, to look at the recent pollution increase as the cause. He stated that the Indian authorities have tried to conceal the problem, threatening to close the clinic if doctors continued to comment.
Additionally, the government has not looked at the extent of the problem and the actual number of people affected due to the government’s expansion of thermal and coal plants.
When Indian scientists from the Department of Atomic Energy visited the plant they reported that uranium in the drinking water was only “slightly high”. The actual tests reported that it was fifteen times higher then safe levels.
Uranium can decompose into hazardous bi-products, which can also be a potential cause of the contaminated drinking water.
A former chief of the Naval staff, India’s Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, has reported that uranium ash from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq carried by the winds could also be partly to blame for the sudden increase. He indicated that the depleted uranium carried by monsoon winds could impact areas within a 1,000-mile radius of Kabul, including Punjab.
Scientists are convinced that the ash can be contained if authorities take a greater look at the ash ponds at the thermal plants, which consequently effects water quality, compromising the health of the entire Indian population.