Punjab Cancer Alert

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It’s Punjab today, it could be the rest of India tomorrow.

Excessive use of pesticides can lead to epidemics of cancer, says a study by the Punjab Pollution Control Board and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI), Chandigarh. The board has warned the people of Punjab that they are at risk.

The Telegraph had on May 17, 2003, reported that the Punjab government had sought the PGI’s help to probe the spurt in cancer in and around Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda. The victims had blamed the brackish water they had been drinking.

Board chairman Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa has now issued a statement saying the study has revealed that pesticides were poisoning the state’s environment, and that there is a close link between pollution and cancer.

“The crops absorb only 10 per cent of the pesticide sprayed on them; the remaining 90 per cent enters the soil or water or the air,” a board official said. “Since these chemicals are used in huge amounts, they are everywhere in Punjab.”

The study — in which the School of Public Health at the PGI’s department of community medicine took part — was conducted across 36 villages in Talwandi Sabo and 93 villages in Chamkaur Sahib, Ropar, which too had reported a sharp rise in cancer. The PGI ran house-to-house surveys, interviewing thousands of people.

Its conclusion: The danger stems from not only the amount of pesticides used but also the manner in which they are sprayed (by hand) and stored (in the open) and the practice of washing the containers and spray pumps in canals.

The board wants the Punjab Agriculture University to educate farmers on the safe use of pesticides. It has requested the state health department to monitor the presence of pesticides and heavy metals in water, vegetables and fruits and sought a non-communicable disease control programme.