River Ganga Still Holy, But It's Also Causing Record Levels of Cancer in People Living Nearby

Bien Stephenson/CC BY 2.0

Some new research shows that the pollution of the River Ganga, the holiest river for Hindus and lifeline for the millions of people living along its course, is so dire that it's causing elevated rates of cancer in people residing nearby. The worst-affected areas are in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the ancient holy city of Varanasi, the flood plains of Bengal, and in Bihar.

Times of India reports that a study done by the Indian Council of Medical Research says that rates of gall bladder cancer in areas drained by the Ganga are the second highest in the world. Rates of prostate cancer in the region are the highest in all of India.

The report places the blame on improper waste disposal, often flowing entirely untreated into the river, with industrial pollutants in particular singled out. Dipankar Chakarabarty, director of the Jadavpur University School of Environmental Studies explains:

The arsenic that gets into the river doesn't flow down. Iron and oxygen in the water form ferroso ferric oxide, which in turn bonds with arsenic. This noxious mix settles on the riverbed. Lead and cadmium are equally heaving and naturally sink in the river. This killer then leeches back into the groundwater, making it poisonous. The consequences of using or drinking this poison can manifest earliest in two years and latest in 20. But by then, it's way too late.

Government plans have been in place to clean the Ganga for well over a decade—to both industrial and human waste being discharged into the river—but have yielded little to no results overall.

Tags: India | Pollution

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