Challenges in Public Awareness:
Reports of Uranium Poisoning in
Hardev Singh Virk
Professor Emeritus, Eternal
University, Baru Sahib (HP), India
• Public interest and concern about environmental
radiation hazards has increased after the
Chernobyl reactor accident on 26 April 1986, and
more recently, after the Japanese Radiation
Disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power
Plant when it was hit by Tsunami on March 11,
2011. Reactor accidents and nuclear explosions
have created a media-hype and a ‘nuclear
neurosis’ among the general public to veto
setting up of any nuclear facility in the
neighbourhood or even in remote areas.
• Public awareness of environmental radiation
hazards is an area which is most neglected in
India. A typical case study is the uranium
poisoning of ground water in Bathinda district
of Punjab, where contradictory reports have
been published in newspapers during last 3
years (2009-11). There has been lot of public
protest in Tamil Nadu against setting up of
Kudankulam Atomic Power Project.
Uranium Poisoning in Punjab
• Uranium poisoning in Punjab first made news in
March 2009, when a South African Clinical Metal
Toxicologist, Carin Smit, visiting Faridkot city in
Punjab found surprisingly high levels of uranium
in 88% of the blood samples collected from
amongst mentally retarded children in the Malwa
region of Punjab. The results revealed that 87% of
children below 12 years and 82% beyond that age
having uranium levels high enough to cause
diseases, and in the case of one child, the levels
were more than 60 times the maximum safe
• The reports of this study when published in
local newspapers created a fear psychosis in
the minds of public. Many scientists from
Universities of Punjab jumped on the band
wagon of Carin Smit to support her claim of
high uranium content in blood samples by
providing results of uranium analysis of soil
and groundwater samples collected from
some villages of Malwa region of Punjab.
Radon Studies by Author
• The present Author has carried out an
exhaustive environmental radon survey of 300
Punjab dwellings in all districts of
Punjab, including Bathinda, under DAE (BRNS)
project sponsored at National level by EAD.
The results of this survey were published in
national & international journals. We found
that radon concentration in dwellings of
Bathinda district is 20 % higher than average
value of radon in Punjab.
Uranium Studies in Punjab Water
• H.S. Virk reported 19.2 ppb of U conc. in tap water of
Punjabi Univ. Patiala using f.t. technique (Current Sci. 48,
• BS Bajwa & HS Virk reported U content of 16.6 ug/l in
water of Thermal Colony, Bathinda using f.t. technique
(Indoor & Built Environ. 12, 2003)
• Rohit Mehra et al. reported average value of 17.3 ug/l for
Malwa region using f.t. technique (Rad. Meas. 42, 2007)
• H. Singh et al. reported highest value of U content of 63
ppb in groundwater of Malwa region(Ind. J. Phys. 83,
• BARC report (The Tribune, 23 July, 2009) filed by
V.D. Puranik (EAD), confirmed higher uranium
content in 3 samples of water than the safe limit
of 60 ug/l fixed by AERB (highest value 244 ug/l).
• Ajay Kumar et al. reported mean value of 99.96
ug/l of U in groundwater samples of S-W Punjab
(J. Geol. & Mining Res. 3(5), 2011)
• Dr. Jaspal Singh of GND University reported very
high values of 1000 ppb uranium in ground water
in the same area (The Tribune, 25 Feb. 2011)
using Laser flourimetry.
• Alrakabi et al. (P.U. Chandigarh) reported highest
value of 212 ppb of U in water of Balluana, near
Bathinda, using EDXRF technique (J.Radioanal.
Nucl. Chem. Jan. 2012)
Conflicting Reports about cause of
Cancer in Malwa region of Punjab
• PAU reported that Arsenic in water may be
major cause of Cancer in Malwa area.
• The Greenpeace of Bangalore reported high
levels of nitrate in ground water (602 mg/l) as
cause of Cancer in Malwa region(safe limit 50
mg /l in drinking water).
• GNDU Amritsar researchers attribute to high
U content as cause of Cancer in Malwa region.
Source of U in Groundwater
• GNDU group attributed high U content in water to
Tosham granite rocks of Haryana.
• PU Chandigarh group reports that high U content in
water can be attributed to high salinity of water and
Phosphatic fertilizers being used in Malwa region of
Punjab. Calcium bicarbonate acts as a leaching agent
for U in soil and it gets concentrated in groundwater
by geochemical processes.
• S. Singh & HS Virk reported U conc. of 612 ppm in
Mussoorie phosphorite using f.t. technique
(IJPAP, 21, 1983). Phosphate fertilizers seem to be
plausible cause of U in groundwater in Punjab.
A Hundred Dollar Question
• Is there any correlation between U content of
Groundwater and Cancer Risk in Punjab?
• There is NO concrete evidence for this?
• Epidemiological investigations need to be carried
out to establish a link between uranium in water
and its role as a cancer causing agent. Several
studies have been carried out in Finland & other
countries but there is hardly any such study
undertaken in India.