VOL No XXX(50) 2014 December 13, 2014
Health effects in villagers in Jaduguda not radiation related
Dr K S Parthasarathy
Political And Business Daily dated December 21, 2014 reprinted this PTI Feature. The text of it is as follows:
Twenty-six specialists including physicians, scientists and academic staff, many of them from outside the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) carried out three separate health surveys in Jaduguda. They concluded that the alleged health effects are not caused by radiation. One medical team noted that the problems they have, can be seen in any village in India with similar socio-economic parameters/conditions
Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) started operating the first uranium mine in India at Jaduguda in Jharkhand in 1967. During late 90s, there were media reports that persons residing close to the uranium mines and milling facilities were suffering from adverse health effects including deformities among children and infertility amongst women in the area. Some activists alleged that these were radiation related.
The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) which publishes exhaustive reports on the health effects of radiation periodically has never found that low dose radiation can cause such symptoms.
Do the operations of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) cause spread of radioactive contamination in surrounding areas?
Miners access the ore body which is divided into vertical spans of nearly 65 metre depth. They drill holes into the ore body, place explosives in them and blast the ore face. They take the broken ore from all sections to an underground crushing station. A conveyer belt carries the ore to the mill for further processing. After extracting uranium by a standard ion exchange process, UCIL separates the tailings into coarse grains and fines in a hydro-cyclone; the former (about 50% of tailings) goes back to the mine for filling the voids and the fines are sent to the Tailings Ponds.
An Environmental Survey Laboratory set up in Jaduguda by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has been surveying the environment since 1965; the lab regularly collects samples of mine and mill effluents, surface water samples of streams starting from tailings pond discharge to several kilo-metres downstream, ground water samples from wells and tube wells near the facilities, samples of soil, grass, vegetables and other food stuffs and aquatic organisms for analysis. The lab also measures gamma radiation and environmental radon levels near the tailings ponds and other locations around the complex and natural gamma radiation levels up to about 25 km using state -of- the art- methods.
In an exhaustive report titled “Environmental and in Plant Monitoring at and around Jaduguda Mining and Milling Complex during 1995-2004”, Shri A H Khan and his colleagues concluded thus:
“The environmental radon and gamma radiation levels around uranium mining and milling complex at Jaduguda are comparable with national and global averages. The radioactivity and chemical pollutant levels in surface and ground water are well below the prescribed limits. The radiation dose due to UCIL operations in the region is negligible as compared to natural background radiation”.
“Radiation at such low level are not expected to have any discernible health impacts in the public domain as well as to the occupational workers”, the report added.
In 2002, in a report titled “Mining and Milling of Uranium Ore by UCIL at Jaduguda and its Radiological Impact on the Environment”, Dr K C Pillai, formerly Head of the Health Physics Division, BARC clarified thus:
“Beyond the fenced area around the Tailings Pond, there is no additional external exposure to persons living in the villages. The additional exposure to the population living close by could only be of the order of 0.05mSv per year from radon arising from UCIL operations. (Sv is a unit for biologically significant radiation dose; an mSv is one thousandth of a Sv; skin dose in a chest x-ray examination is about 0.1 mSv)
The intake of water from the Gara river and food items from the area contributes nearly 0.1 mSv per annum. The annual exposure to the individual members of the population in these villages is estimated to be 1.72 -3.14 mSv with a mean of 2.49 mSV per annum”. The report noted that 65% of the world population receives an annual dose of 1-3 mSv per annum. This arises from natural background radiation present everywhere.
In Radiation Protection dosimetry (2010) journal, Dr R M Tripathi and others from BARC estimated that the radiation dose to members of the public residing around uranium mining complex, Jaduguda are very low.
Responding to the claims of adverse health effects, the Department of Atomic Energy organized several health surveys. In a major health survey, medical teams examined over 3000 inhabitants from nearby villages and short listed several cases for further review by specialists. After reviewing the instances, the specialist team concluded thus:
“The consensus of all the doctors was that the cases examined had congenital limb anomalies, diseases due to genetic abnormalities like Thalassemia Major and Retinitis Pigmentosa, moderate to gross Splenomegaly due to chronic malarial infection (as this is a hyper-endemic area), malnutrition, post encephalitic and post head injury sequele.
The team was convinced and unanimously agreed that the diseases pattern cannot be ascribed to radiation exposure in any of these cases”.
Twenty-six specialists including physicians, scientists and academic staff, many of them from outside the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) carried out three separate health surveys in Jaduguda, including the one referred to in the last paragraph. They concluded that the alleged health effects are not caused by radiation. One medical team noted that the problems they have, can be seen in any village in India with similar socio-economic parameters/conditions
Dr.B L Wadehra filed a petition (188/1999) in the Supreme Court of India, claiming that those living in the villages around the Jaduguda uranium mine suffer from “cancer, tuberculosis, impotency, physical deformities and constant fevers and body pains rendering the whole area unfit for human habitation”. He sought judicial intervention. The Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the petition as the court did not find any merit in it.
After reviewing the report from DAE, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India expressed the view that that there is no need for any survey by another fact-finding team.
The claim of radiation-related adverse health effects in villages near Jaduguda due to uranium mining and milling has no scientific basis. This is a settled issue.
UCIL must continue to comply with all safety provisions. The nation benefits from mining uranium. Let us not be scared by another report in the next few months!