Polluted ground water not only affects food production, but increases waterborne diseases as well. In India, about 80 per cent of the diseases are believed to be water-related and the World Health Organization has estimated that nearly five million human deaths occur every year from polluted water.
Florine first isolated in 1891 by Moisson, is the most reactive of all the elements known so far. It is widely found in the combined state as fluorides. About 96 per cent of the fluoride in the body is found in bones and teeth. Fluoride is often called a “two-edged sword.” It helps in mineralization of bones.
Presence of small quantities of fluorides, less than one part per million in drinking water, prevents dental decay and helps enamel formation. However, fluoride, when consumed more than one mg/1 can cause several kinds of health problems, viz., skeletal fluorosis, dental fluorosis, osteo-fluorosis and gut-fluorosis.
In the early thirties, when fluorosis was first detected fluoridated water was a problem in just four states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. In 1986, when the technology mission on drinking water began operation, fluorosis was found in nine more states: viz., Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar.
In 1992, two more states were added to the list. They are Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala. I However, creation of a new state in 2001, Chhattisgarh has also been included in the list, taking the affected states to 16. Fluorosis initially causes arthritic pains, yellowing of teeth and subsequent, leads of skeletal deformity.
Endemic fluorosis has emerged as one of the most alarming public health problem all over the country. According to the survey of water technology mission, approximately 25 million Indians are in the grip of dental flourosis; animals being no exception.
During weathering and circulation of water in rocks and soils, fluoride is leached out and gets dissolved in the ground water. Several natural fluoride-bearing minerals identified as per Geological Survey of India include fluorides, fluorites, cryolite, phosphate, and fluorapattie, silicates, and topaz and mica group.
Effect of Fluoride on Human Health
In various industries such as oil refineries, mining, plastics, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cosmetics, glass, china clay, etc. manufactured fluoridated minerals are used. Fly ash is emitted into the air from these industries containing excess of fluorides and when people come to these areas, fluorides, present in the air enters the body through inhalation.
Fluoride is leached- out when industrial wastes is dumped into the open atmosphere from these industries and gets contaminated into the ground water. Animal fodder received from agricultural land around industrial units in Mumbai revealed more amount of fluoride than permissible limits. Various food materials used in India like fish, tobacco, or tea contain fluoride up to 100 ppm.
Prevention and Control
In a country where fluorosis has been found so widely, where television commercials are! Pushing all brands of toothpastes, it is not easy to stop the use of fluoridated toothpastes in just fluorosis-endemic areas.
The need of the hour is to create awareness among the people. Besides the community participation to develop and implement water and sanitation programmes in a sustainable way, governmental and non-governmental organizations have to play an important role.
Several methods of defluoridation of drinking water have been reported and are based on the principle of exchange or adsorption employing the use of ion exchange resins, activated carbon, bauxite, lime and alum, bone char, activated alumina and osmosis.
The most important aspect of prevention and control of endemic fluorosis are to create awareness among people. In view of the quick absorption of fluorides into blood stream and the evidences that millions in the country are afflicted by fluorosis, there is an urgent need to seek a limit, if not ban, the use of fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses instead of blindly following some western countries who do not have the problem of fluoridated water and have better diets.
More defluoridation plant should be set up, various scientists in the country are engaged in developing methods for defluoridation techniques, and however, the emphasis should be on the development of economical, spontaneous and easy-to-handle techniques. Controlled use of toothpaste and food materials containing high fluoride, immediate advice from the doctor regarding pains in joints and backbone are some precautionary measures by which we can save ourselves from this disease.
Expectant mothers should not use fluoridated water. We should also promote oral hygiene and more calcium and vitamin C in diet to the people of fluorosis affected areas. People’s participation through Panchayati Raj institutions and collaboration with voluntary agencies are essential for providing safe water supply.