Plastic contamination in drinking water risks human health

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Plastic waste. (Image credit: Food and Water Watch)

BENGALURU, April 14: Amidst the heated election discussions majority of us tend to ignore the major concerns of India and the issues that affects our life ahead. Researchers’ identification of elements of micro plastics in drinking water has created a massive tension across the sectors.

Plastic contamination is affecting our marine sector, agricultural sector, wild life and now human health is massively affected. But none of the politicians and political parties make a slogan out of it. Let us not forget that long neglected ‘Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016’ stands before as a volcano in both rural and urban India. Partially banned plastics in some pilgrimage centres, tourist and historical places cannot save India from water contamination.

The Indian government who suggested plastic waste management rules has become one of the biggest carriers of plastic in it services. The airline, railway and bus services offered by the state and central government still distribute food, beverages and drinking water in the plastic containers.

The consumption pattern and consumer behavior have changed and witnessed a manifold increase in PET bottles and plastic wrapping of products. The indiscriminate disposal of plastic has become a major threat to the environment.  In particular, the plastic carry bags are the biggest contributors of littered waste and every year, millions of plastic bags end up in to the environment through soil, water bodies, water courses, et al and it takes an average of one thousand years to decompose completely. Lack of judicial usage and plastic has unfortunately damaged our water sources including ground water.

Plastic elements can enter into human body through multiple channels. Bottled water, pipe water, and even underground water can be carriers of direct entry. The fish and animals who consume contaminated water can be the other agents. Milk, which is considered as the purest form of food for the new born babies, might be affected due to animal consumption of contaminated water.

Micro plastics are known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals. If it enters the human body, it may pass directly through the body without being absorbed, just as indigestible roughage in food does. But the smaller the particles are, the more likely they are to enter the bloodstream and even cells in the body.

Some pesticides and chemicals called dioxins that are identified in micro plastics are known to cause cancer, affect the reproductive system and are to create other developmental problems.  “Unfortunately, India does not have any studies conducted to identify the impact of plastic micro particles in drinking water on our health. The government needs to take some serious steps in conducting studies and empowering citizens,” opined Sushma P, a Life Science faculty from Karnataka.

As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) data, cancer rate has doubled in last 26 years. India had 14 lakh cancer patients in 2016 and this number is expected to increase. The government has laid down four priority cancers like breast cancer, cervical cancer, oral cancer, and lung cancer which together constitute 41 per cent of cancer burden, the report mentioned.

Even the National Health Profile (NHP) mentions that as per the SRS Statistical Report of 2016 by the Registrar General of India, fertility is declining rapidly, including among the poor and illiterate. Extensive research is essential in identifying the reciprocal relationship, the cause and the effect. At present, it is difficult to establish a definitive causal link between a contaminant and the potential health impacts.

“Dispensation of plastics in water causes mixing of hazardous materials that includes toxic substance such as Bisphenol A. It is a common ingredient that is present in many plastic commodities and pollutes the water drastically. Since it doesn’t get diluted in water, it results in serious environmental issues.  This causes low level of oxygen in the water. The availability of oxygen predominantly affects the ecosystem and the life of living forms including human beings,” said Dr. Challaraj Emmanuel, a Biochemist from Bengaluru.

The government’s inattention to reduce the production and consumption of plastic has brought in a sea of changes in the health sector. The only solution to save ourselves from severe health hazards is to minimize plastic waste generation, adoption of extended producer responsibility for collection of waste and sustainable plastic waste management.

The existing plastic may be recycled and utilized for road construction, energy and oil generation rather than littering it all over the country. The identification of plastic elements in drinking water urges governments, industry, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of plastic in our day-to-day life.