By T. V. Padma
Studies increasingly point to the presence of pharmaceutical and personal care products in urban stretches along the Ganges River, which originates pristine in the Himalayas but is heavily polluted with industrial effluents and domestic sewage when it empties into the Bay of Bengal.
Researchers from Doon University, Dehra Dun, India, have reported the presence of 15 pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) in the Ganges near two Hindu pilgrimage cities. These pollutants include caffeine, anti-inflammatory drugs, common antibiotics, beta blockers, antibacterials, and insect repellents.
Over three seasons, Doon scientists studied the river waters of two cities in the rapidly industrializing Himalayan state of Uttarakhand: Haridwar, where the Ganges enters India’s northern plains from the Himalayas, and Rishikesh, 21 kilometers away. Haridwar and Rishikesh, with a combined population of 400,000, attract an estimated 20 million tourists and pilgrimsannually.
In particular, the scientists analyzed the water at its point of entry into the two cities and at sites before its entry into a sewage treatment plant and after sewage treatment. The study could provide useful baseline data for forecasting and evaluating the efficiency of future antipollution measures of the river basin restoration program, the authors added.
“Compared to previous studies that analyzed samples along various locations along the Ganges, this is the first comprehensive, intensive study in a particular city along the river,” said Surendra Suthar, an associate professor at Doon University and one of the study’s authors.
PPCP concentrations near the cities varied, with the highest measured concentration being 1,104.84 nanograms per liter. Researchers found higher PPCP concentrations at the lower, more populated reaches of the river. The concentrations, especially of anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics, were also higher in winter, possibly because of decreased biodegradation associated with lower temperatures and inadequate sunlight, the report said. The study also showed that PPCPs in the region were associated with a higher risk of algal blooms and a moderate risk to the health of river fish.
“The high load of PPCPs during summer and winter could be attributed to the excessive tourist visits for recreational activities and spiritual congregations during these seasons,” according to the report, to be published in Chemosphere in April.