Current Affairs

Microplastics in Ganga more than any other major world river: Study

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  • Published
    23rd Jul, 2021
  • Context

    As per a latest study conducted by Delhi-based non-profit Toxic Link, the Ganga is heavily polluted with microplastics at Varanasi, Haridwar and Kanpur.

  • What are microplastics?

    • Microplastics are tiny plastic particles but a major source of pollution.
    • They are non-degradable plastics.
    • Size: They are less than five millimeters (0.2 inches) in diameter.
    • Types:
      • Ehylenevinyl: Used in food, drugs and cosmetic packaging.
      • Polyacetylene: Used as a doping agent in the electronics industry.
      • Polypropylene: Used in packaging, plastic sheets, fibre, fabrics, rope, etc.
      • PIP: Used in footwear and baby bottle nipples.
      • Polyamide (nylon): Used as a natural fibre and as metal wires in clothing and industry.
  • Key-highlights of the Study

    • Title of the Study: Quantitative analysis of Microplastics along River Ganga
    • Research area: Varanasi, Haridwar and Kanpur.
    • Among the three cities, Varanasi (Assi Ghat) showed the maximum load of microplastics, as compared to the other two cities.
      • This might be due to cumulative downstream pollution and also because of industrial and human activities.
    • Kanpur’s Dohri ghat ranked topmost among all 15 sites (five each from all three cities) from where the river water sample was collected.
    • Resins like EVOH, Polyacetylene, PIP, PVC and PVAL were predominantly present in all three locations.

    Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy

    • The samples were tested through the Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy.
    • It is a technique used to identify small organic or inorganic material — to identify the exact type, or resin core present in the water.
  • Is Ganga microplastic pollution more than any other major world river?

    • This research compared the microplastics concentration in Ganga water with similar studies on other rivers across the globe, like the-
      • Rhine in Europe
      • the Magothy, Rhode Patapsco in North America
      • the Maipo, Biobio, Maule and Elqui in South America
    • Compared to other cities, Ganga microplastics pollution was much higher.
    • This finding is worrisome as there is higher per capita consumption of plastic in the European countries, North and South America, as compared to India.
  • What are the reasons behind high concentration?

    • Industrial waste and religious offering: Microplastics often entered the Ganga through industrial waste or packaging of religious offerings. 
    • Population: The density of population in cities also adds to the problem because a large chunk of pollutants got directly discharged into the river by people living on the banks.
    • Release of sewage waste: Sewage and / or industrial effluents are also responsible for the increased concentration.
  • Why the findings are of grave concern?

    • The results of this study are a matter of grave concern not just for academic and scientific interests but also from the public health perspective.
    • The Ganga is a source of water for not just drinking and bathing purposes but also for irrigation to a large extent.
    • The river is acting as a carrier of plastics and microplastics and transporting significantly large quantities into the ocean.

    Ganga River Basin

    • Ganga is a sacred body of water to Hindus.
    • It begins high in the Himalaya Mountains (Gomukh, the terminus of the Gongotri Glacier) and empties out into the Bay of Bengal.
    • When the ice of this glacier melts, it forms the clear waters of the Bhagirathi River.
    • As the Bhagirathi River flows down the Himalayas, it joins the Alaknanda River, officially forming the Ganges River. 
    • The Ganges River Basin is sometimes considered part of a larger river basin consisting of the nearby Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers.
      • Known as the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) River Basin, it is one of the largest river systems in the world.
  • How does it impact people?

    • Toxicity: Microplastics in river water, if ingested in humans or other organisms, can cause toxicity through various means. Not only are these microplastics toxic themselves, they also have a tendency to absorb various toxins present in water, including harmful chemicals. 
    • Food chain: Microplastics can enter human bodies consumption of sea food and also through use of products that contain nanoplastics such as scrubs, lipsticks, mascara, shampoos etc.
    • Oral, dermal and inhalation exposure: Other than the food chain, constant contact with day-to-day life plastic products allows oral, dermal and inhalation exposure to microplastics and additive chemicals to human body. 
    • Affected marine life: Microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds.
  • Conclusion

    Microplastics are evidently everywhere and it is not just affecting people’s lives but the entire ecosystem. India, despite being a major hotspot does not have proper knowledge and research on the topic. Thus, research is urgently needed in order to have an effective solution for this global issue.