India – Kanpur Groundwater Pollution

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the details…
Key pollutant
Hexavalent Chromium
Source
Tanneries
Pathway
  • Water
  • Direct contract
Population affected
30,000
Children Under 6 Affected
6,000
DALYs averted
2,860
Industry
Tanneries
Date started
December 2004
Date completed
April 2007
Cost of project
$80,000
Project Partners
  • EcoFriends
  • CPCP North Zone Office
  • Lucknow
  • IIT Kanpur
  • ITRC Lucknow
  • NBRI Hyderabad
  • GZA USA
  • Ecocycle Company (Japan)
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The Problem:

Kanpur is the ninth-largest city in India, and one of its most severely polluted. Its eastern districts feature about 350 industrial leather tanneries, many of which discharge untreated waste into local groundwater sources and the Ganges River. These pollutants include toxic levels of metal contaminants such as chromium, mercury, and arsenic. Chromium is the most worrisome of these: popular in the tanning industry because it makes leather goods stronger, its waste form–hexavalent chromium or Cr VI–is known to cause lung cancer, liver failure, kidney damage, and premature dementia. Noraiakheda, a settlement of 30,000 people within Kanpur, has developed right on top of a plume of Cr VI emitted by toxic sludge from an old chemical plant that had supported the tanneries. The sludge is a source of pollution and a danger to human health. Flammable methane trapped inside the sludge catches fire during the hot summer months, releasing harmful toxins into the air. Summer heat and winds also distribute dust particles from the sludge containing Cr VI and other toxins that are harmful when inhaled. Chromium from the sludge leaks into the river, subsoil, and groundwater – the primary source of drinking water for the surrounding community. A 1997 study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board on the groundwater quality in Kanpur revealed Cr VI levels of 6.2 mg/L; the Indian government places the limit at .05 mg/L.

Health Impact

Hexavalent chromium is the most toxic form of chromium. Occupational studies have shown exposure to hexavalent chromium dust to be associated with lung cancer. Inhalation (occupational exposure) of hexavalent chromium has lead to irritation of the respiratory system and gastrointestinal bleeding. Ingestion (accidental or intentional) of hexavalent chromium may cause stomach upsets, ulcers, and severe damage to the kidneys and liver.

Current Activity

To raise public awareness, Blacksmith supported Ecofriends, a local environmental NGO in Kanpur.

For the chemical remediation, Blacksmith worked with Ecocycle/GZA (engineering consultants who could supply some of the needed materials) and the Central Pollution Control Board in order to undertake the first such project in India’s history. Other collaborators included the Industrial Toxicology Research Center, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, and National Geophysical Research Institute.

As part of the remediation, Blacksmith and its partners dug four new wells in a portion of the contaminated groundwater system. One of the wells was an injection well used to introduce the electron donor chemical, and the other three were water quality monitoring stations that would test for 16 health criteria including metal concentrations. Once baseline samples had been taken, the chemical was added through the injection well and then the monitoring sites sampled the water quality in 5 later series.

Outcome

From a public awareness perspective, the intervention from Blacksmith and Ecofriends succeeded in installing two new submersible water pumps that would supply the Noraiakheda area with safe, potable drinking water.

The chemical remediation was also successful, with levels of Cr VI dropping at all the test sites, sometimes to levels so low as to be undetectable. Now that this technique has been proven to work at this site’s conditions, the next step will be to expand implementation.