Fluorosis: A Crippling Story

Capstone Gangavathi Health Taluk

Arti Peethambaran

Bangalore, January 2020, 2020-04- 11

Gangavathi… a village crippled by skeletal fluorosis from consuming unhealthy groundwater

Fluoride is found in groundwater, and in certain areas of the country the fluoride levels are high enough to harm health. Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water that exists in hard-rock aquifers at a depth of approximately 30 to 90 m and in some locations in the weathered top layer, supporting 68% of the population.

The impacted area in Karnataka covers 30-50% of the State and the fluoride concentration level in groundwater is 0.2-7.79mg / l which is higher than the permissible levels of consumption.  While fluoride intake is necessary to protect teeth from decay, excessive consumption can lead to potentially severe dental fluorosis and crippling skeletal problems resulting in calcification of ligaments and bone deformities in extreme circumstances. The enamel can get damaged in most severe cases leaving an intrinsic stain that cannot be removed. Kids are easily susceptible to such conditions.  Incidents of fluorosis are visible among residents of Gangavathi village of Kalgudi and Hosahali, where many suffer from knee or joint pain almost rendering them incapacitated.

Gangappa lives in Gangavathi’s Hosahalli village and has trouble walking and had to stop working as a result.  He said, ” I used to work in the fields until the pain became severe, now I am just sitting at home like an invalid. My knees started hurting at first and now I find it almost impossible to walk. I feel this has been caused by the water we drink.”

The WHO recommends drinking water to contain a concentration of fluoride between 0.8ppm and 1.5ppm. According to the reports of National Programme for Prevention and Control of Flurosis 2019-2020, out of 218 water samples tested for fluoride in Gangavathi taluk, 178 showed excessive fluoride content ranging from 1.51 to 16.6 ppm.  Gangavathi has a total of 381 Dental fluorosis cases and 274 cases of skeletal fluorosis. The water quality data of Koppal district reflects the presence of excess turbidity or total hardness,

Bettadappa lives in Kalgudi Village in Gangavathi and has been suffering from skeletal fluorosis for the past 3.5 years. He complains of excruciating pain in the hips and thighs causing difficulty to sit or walk.  The doctors have advised that his ailment is beyond cure as his bones have eroded.  He consumes water from the borewell.His married daughter suffers from dental fluorosis and has difficulty with eating.  His son had to stop studying to take the responsibility of working in order to provide for the family and they have spent approximately 2.5 lakh Rs on treatment

His brother Kakanoora also suffers from skeletal fluorosis and has been going through extreme pain for the past 20 years.Ammangowdre has been suffering from severe knee pain for ten years.  The tablets prescribed by the doctors offer momentary relief and the pain returns when he stop taking medicines even for two days.

According to the reports published by National Programme for Prevention and Control of Flurosis of 2019-2020, Fluoride affects not just humans but damages plants and soil as well. The fertilizers used for the crops have substantial fluoride content. Water containing toxic elements, especially fluoride, flows through the soil and enters groundwater level thus contaminating the source of drinking water for many.

The BDO of the Kalguddi Panchayat Mr. Manteshagrees on the excess content but claims nothing can be done about it. The village has four water filters, and six bore wells. Three of the four filters are owned by the government, and one is a private filter installed by Nandini Company. The government filters charge Rs 2 for a 20 litre bottle of water whereas the private company charges Rs5 for the same.  Since it is an added cost for the poor people of Gangavathy village, drinking water from the borewell is a favored alternative.

“Koppal being a fluorosis belt, we have many patients reporting of illness in Gangavathi”, says Dr Vijay K, the Dentist at the Government Hospital.  At least50-60% out of 40-50 patients checked daily are detected with fluorosis.  Dental fluorosis has no treatment in the Government hospital and patients arrive mostly at the marriageable age of 18-20 years when their situation is irreversible.  The most affected people are the middle class or lower middle class who cannot afford the expensive treatment like bleaching, veneer or dental crown.  Dr Vijay recommends concentrating more on prevention by improving the quality of drinking water.  Every village has a RO water purifying plant installed by the Government of Karnataka but many of these don’t work as the contractors engaged by the Government take the money but leave the plants unrepaired.  Attempts to educate the people of Gangavathyvillage on drinking water from the RO plant to safeguard their health is met with the response that they would be willing if the Government facility worked properly.

Environmentalist Ashwin Krishnamurthy says that complete elimination of fluoride levels from drinking water can only be achieved through distillation and sees a distillation plant to be a key remedy that will redeem the poor residents of Gangavathi village from turning into a debilitated community


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