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Issue 39
, 2013
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Toxic Yamuna veggies on your menu: Health fears over river bank vegetables contaminated with sewage water

Source: Mail Today, Date: , 2013

Fruits and vegetables sold by the wayside along the Yamuna may look fresh, tempting and cheaper - but the truth behind their freshness could make you throw up. For, they are grown on the river bank using water flushed down the toilets.

A study conducted by three associate professors of Deen Dayal Upadhyay College in Delhi University shows that the amount of fecal matter in river water has increased exponentially since the Central Pollution Control Board came out with its findings in 2009. The amount of Fecal coliform (FC) – bacteria available in human and animal feces – has grown by as much as 30 times as compared to CPCB values.

The presence of FC indicates that the water is contaminated with human or animal waste, which makes its way to the river through millions of litres of untreated sewage water every day. Though veggies grown on Yamuna bed in east and south Delhi are already known to have high metal content, FC content in food can bring you down with severe intestinal problems.

The FC bacteria found in Yamuna water can cause blood infections, stomach upsets and kidney dysfunction

 The year-long study was started last June with a plan to collect and test samples from the river every three months. According to tests done in December, the value of FC found at Nizamuddin Bridge was 9.3 crore per 100 millilitres of water.

Okhla Barrage had the least fecal content at a value of 5.2 crore per 100 millilitres. The FC value earlier reported by CPCB was 57 lakh to 30 lakh per 100 millilitre.

"FC comes from sewage which is dumped straight into the Yamuna and most people do not realise the impact of this on their health. The value of dissolved oxygen (DO) is also zero at most places in the river which means no life can survive in the water.

"The quality of water is better when the river reaches Delhi at Palla," said Vinod Kumar, associate professor, department of chemistry at Deen Dayal Upadhyay College, who did the study with Dr Mahaveer and Dr Rajkumari Sanamaiya from the chemistry and botany departments.

He said the only life available in the Yamuna is water hyacinth, which was introduced a few years ago to absorb contaminants.

Yamuna water, which is no better than sewage water now, is also used to grow or wash vegetables and fruits at the mandis, from where they are sent to different parts of the city.

"Mandis stock vegetables grown along the Yamuna using the river water. For instance, vegetables from Okhla mandi come from areas near Okhla barrage and vegetables from Wazirabad goes to Azadpur mandi. FC is known to be going up as sewage from different parts of Delhi go directly into Yamuna. It peaks after the Nizamuddin bridge," said Ravi Aggarwal, founder, Toxics Link.

Okhla mandi caters to south Delhi, Faridabad and even Gurgaon markets. Doctors warn it's important to wash all vegetables, especially the leafy ones, to make sure the bacteria does not play with your stomach.

"Ingestion of such contaminated food can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, blood infection, dehydration, urinary infection and kidney dysfunction. We have indeed seen increasing number of such cases recently," said Dr Anoop Misra, director, Fortis C-Doc Centre for Internal Medicine, Vasant Kunj.

"Leafy vegetables should be repeatedly washed and then cooked. Raw vegetables should be avoided," he added. In fact, the guavas and red radishes sold by the roadside in east Delhi are washed in the Yamuna water.

"You go to Nizamuddin or Geeta Colony area where people are seen buying these vegetables. People eat them raw though cooking can kill FC to quite an extent," said Kumar, whose study will conclude in May, following which it will be presented to the university.

Kumar's team, which also included 10 students, tested the samples on parameters like bicarbonate, total hardness, pH, alkanity, conductivity, nitrate, phosphate, sulphate, chloride, DO, Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), Total Coliform (TC), FC and heavy metals.

Though the government is planning to lay down an integrated sewer system to prevent sewage water from flowing into the Yamuna, work is yet to start. There are 22 drains flowing directly into the river including 18 major drains and four drains from Agra and Gurgaon.

According to an expert committee appointed by the SC, the total installed sewage treatment capacity in Delhi is 2,460 million litres per day (MLD) as against the sewage generation of about 3,800 MLD.

According to the committee's report, 1,360 million litres of sewage water flowed into the river per day, mainly from Najafgarh drain.