IIT Mandi study warns of cancer-causing metals in Baddi-Barotiwala groundwater

Research in collaboration with IIT Jammu reveals significant health risks from industrial pollutants and geogenic uranium contamination in Himachal Pradesh

New Delhi: A recent study by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, in collaboration with IIT Jammu, has uncovered alarming levels of cancer-causing pollutants in the groundwater of Himachal Pradesh’s Baddi-Barotiwala (BB) industrial area.
Groundwater, vital for agriculture and domestic use across India, faces severe quality challenges exacerbated by rapid urbanization and industrial growth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the BB industrial area, where unchecked industrial activity has contaminated groundwater with toxic metals exceeding safe limits. This contamination has been associated with numerous health issues, including reports of cancer and renal diseases between 2013 and 2018.
Dr. Deepak Swami, Associate Professor at IIT Mandi’s School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Utsav Rajput, a research scholar, collaborated with Dr. Nitin Joshi from IIT Jammu to publish their findings in the prestigious journal, Science of the Total Environment. Their study employed advanced chemical hydrology techniques to analyze groundwater samples, identifying sources of contamination and evaluating associated health risks.
The research highlighted significant non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic risks from consuming contaminated groundwater, using the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) human health risk assessment model. Metal concentrations were mapped geospatially across village boundaries, emphasizing the distribution and intensity of contamination.
Dr. Deepak Swami emphasized the urgent need for remedial action, stating, “Groundwater poses high health risks through oral intake, necessitating urgent remediation. Monitoring industrial effluents for zinc, lead, nickel, and chromium is essential to prevent health hazards. Policies must be framed to balance industrial development with public health for sustainable growth.”
The study found that the region’s groundwater, primarily rock-dominated with calcium carbonate, showed uniform uranium levels across samples. Most metals traced back to industrial sources, while uranium and molybdenum occurred naturally. Health risk assessments indicated elevated non-carcinogenic risks for adults and children from natural uranium, compounded by industrial pollutants like zinc, lead, cobalt, and barium. Carcinogenic risks, particularly from industrial nickel and chromium, were also highlighted for adults.
Dr. Nitin Joshi from IIT Jammu underscored the urgency of the findings, stating, “Our research group conducted a field study to map the pollution status in the industrial region of Baddi-Barotwala. The objective was to analyze the chemical composition of the groundwater, which is considered readily potable by the nearby communities. The analysis revealed that, if left unattended, the lower Himalayan region is on a similar trajectory to southwestern Punjab”.
Geospatial maps created as part of the study illustrate metal contamination and health risks, offering a crucial tool for policymakers and residents to understand and address pollution sources effectively. The study’s implications are profound, particularly in developing countries where waterborne diseases contribute to over 80% of health issues resulting in 1.5 million deaths annually due to poor water quality and hygiene.