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Threatening levels of Chemical fertilisers in Punjab groundwater: Greenpeace study

Medical fraternity raises concern and demands government action

Press release - November 26, 2009
BHATINDA, PUNJAB, India — Indian Medical Association (IMA) and the medical fraternity today raised concern over the discovery of high levels of nitrate contamination of drinking water based on a Greenpeace study. The study, ‘Chemical fertilisers in our Water(1), conducted in farms across Muktsar, Bathinda and Ludhiana showed that most wells were contaminated with nitrates, and 20 percent of all sampled wells had nitrate levels above the safety limit of 50 mg per litre as established by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Studies show high levels of toxic chemicals from synthetic fertilizers in our groundwater.

The Greenpeace report was released by Dr Jai Rup Singh, the Vice Chancellor of Central University of Punjab in a press conference jointly organized in Bathinda by IMA (Bhatinda), Kheti Virasat Mission and Greenpeace.

The report noted that there is excessive use of chemical fertilisers in Punjab and that it is steadily increasing. The sampled farmers use an average of 322 kg of Nitrogen per hectare(2). This is 53% higher than the state average of 210 kg per hectare as per Government records.

"This nitrate pollution in the groundwater is clearly linked with excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers as the higher the application of nitrogen (urea), the higher the nitrate pollution found in the groundwater from the same farm" said Dr. Reyes Tirado, scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the University of Exeter, UK, who had conducted the study. "The nitrate pollution found in this study is remarkably high given that the groundwater in this area is quite deep, and it is generally assumed that deep groundwater would be cleaner and less polluted than shallow water" she added.

Addressing the media, Dr. Vitull K. Gupta, the eminent health and human rights activist from Bathinda, expressed strong concerns on the matter. He warned the government of the dangerous health impacts on people of this region who are already under increasing threat of cancer due to ever increasing use of fertilisers. Dr Gupta stated that it was essential not just to have strict laws to curb such calamities but to also ensure that they are implemented to safeguard the basic human right to safe drinking water.

'Chemicals fertilisers in our water', also points out that high levels of nitrates in groundwater as found in the samples could have serious health impacts. Health risks could vary from the blue baby syndrome in infants to cancers of the digestive tract, bladder and ovary.

Dr.Shiv Dutt Gupta, President of IMA, Bathinda Branch said that IMA is deeply concerned with the results of the Greenpeace study and the doctors fraternity would raise the issue at all possible platforms.  IMA will also write a letter to both the Central and State Governments, highlighting the issue and demanding immediate action.

"Since it is established that there is a high number of people impacted by agro-chemical pollution, the immediate need is to ensure an epidemiological profiling of Punjab to provide adequate treatment in such cases.  But there is also an urgency to prevent such health crisis from occurring in the first place" said Dr GPI Singh, convener of the Environmental health Action group and Director Principal of Adesh Medical College, Bathinda. He reminded the Government that if the health of the average Punjabi needs to be regained, it is essential that we stop loading our farms with agrochemicals.

 "The irrational subsidy doled out by the Government provokes the excessive usage of synthetic fertilisers leading to colossal damage to water, soil and human health (3). The potential for a shift from synthetic to organic nitrogen fertilisers is real: but what is lacking is the political will" said Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission.

With the Central Government having declared its intentions to change the fertiliser subsidy regime, the participants endorsed the Greenpeace demands that:

1.   The Government needs to create an alternate subsidy system that promotes ecological farming and use of organic soil amendments.

2.   The Government needs to shift the irrational subsidy policy for synthetic fertilisers to sustainable ecological practices in agriculture.

3.   Scientific research needs to refocus on ecological alternatives, to identify agro-ecological practices that ensure clean drinking water and future food security under a changing climate.

For further information, contact

Preethi Herman, Greenpeace India, Phone +91 9901 4884 82; email:

Umendra Dutt, Kheti Virasat Mission- Phone: +91 9872 6821 61; email:

Notes to Editor

1. Link to ‘Chemical fertilisers in our water’ report : http://www.greenpeace.org/india/press/reports/chemical-fertilisers-in-our-wa-2
2 1 hectare is equivalent to 2.5 acres
3 Subsidising Food Crisis, a Greenpeace India report launched on 1 July 2009 can be downloaded from: http://www.greenpeace.org/india/press/reports/subsidising-food-crisis