Environmental and Human
Imperatives of Pollution Recognition and Remedies
National Chemical Laboratory, Pune 411008
Pollution has become the bane of modern
industrial civilizations. Pace of life and work in latter often
even leads to inability of timely recognition of deterioration
in environmental quality due to pollution. this can in turn give
rise to disease epidemics as well as other community mishaps endangering
health and life of large populations. In more populous, and often
still developing countries, sophisticated protocols of pollution
detection devised for technologically advanced nations, are not
suitable. Simpler techniques of pollution detection and monitoring,
as by easily observable biological responses of selected/specially
developed bioindicator organisms, are the need of the hour. recognition
and identification of pollution, its etiology, source, nature
and consequences must be followed by remedial measures, preferable
of simple, sustainable and ecofriendly nature. This may be easier
said than done, but there can be no denying of such needs becoming
imperatives of planetary existence and survival.
Pollution has become a universal phenomenon,
aggravating with time, despite sustained efforts at containment.
Reduction of planetary parameters to contracted dimensions of
the global village has occurred in spheres other than information,
leading to further ubiquity of deleterious effects of even localized
environmental degradation. In the more technologically advanced
communities, sophisticated systems of hazard detection have been
evolved and are in actual operation. These are supplemented by
state of the art remedies of social, legal or technical nature.
Despite the greater and wider range of pollution hazards from
the industrial communities, therefore, there is less acute or
covert / chronic fallout in terms of ill effects. On the other
hand, still developing countries are sources of less pollution
both in terms of quantity and quality, but are more vulnerable
to hazards because of primitive, malfunctioning or non-existent
detection and remedial systems.
Bio-indication: the concept and its application in developing countries
The concept of bio-indication entails simply the use of a biological response or parameter for detecting definite hazard which is generally of chemical or microbiological nature, in the ecosystems of water, soil and air. In the present paper, detection of specific pollution hazards in water in the developing countries of third world will be discussed.
As remarked earlier, detection systems
in ecologically advanced countries are usually highly complex,
expensive and technically sophisticated. A typical example is
the mussel valve movement series and electroreception in fishes
detected by electric potential and monitored / projected by intricate
computer networks (1-3) . It is obvious that such intricate ,
complex and expensive systems requiring several highly trained
personnel can hardly be deployed in the vast rural, semi urban
and even urban tracts of developing countries. On the other hand,
rapid and growing urbanization / industrialization has already
become a serious enough threat to human health and life by the
hazards created, for example by pollution of its water sources.
Water quality analysis regimes in many developed countries also
have become obsolete by not incorporating modern hazardous chemicals
such as agro products like pesticides and fertilizers. It is obviously
impractical to expect water quality assessment in developing countries
to take cognizance of a host of newer chemicals flooding the ecoscape.
The only alternative obviously is development of newer, simpler,
and readily adaptable systems of hazard detection by biological
indication. Certain organisms, especially microorganisms and plants,
as also some animal communities are known to occur and thrive
in polluted waters of general or specific denomination (4-5).
However, these bioindices are naturally restricted, geographically
as well as by their generally nonspecific nature of hazard recognition.
It has been argued by Sharma et al (6) that organisms cultured
in laboratories would form ideal bioindicators if specific responses
or parameters to toxicants can be identified. It is necessary,
of course, to base these systems on species which can be easily
and inexpensively reared, as also parameters which can be assessed
by even unskilled high school graduates. Given the extensive and
viable network of block development/welfare at village level across
the country, implementation of using such novel systems becomes
a definite practical possibility.
At the technical level it may be pointed out that laboratory reared organisms have advantages of greater susceptibility and more genetic homogeneity leading to uniform responses which can be used as standards. Buildup of adequate databases in comprehensive laboratory studies can lend authority and authenticity to the functioning of such systems (7). An example is given here of a simple and technically easily usable species , the common yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti larvae. The species can be easily reared inexpensively by semi -skilled workers in rural conditions , without provisions of any special requirements. The first - fourth larval stages of this species require one week to 10-12 days for development .Their responses such as locomotion, growth inhibition and finally mortality can be examined against specific environmental pollutants (8). Data bases so built up can be used to predict hazard in target water source and possibly even identify its nature. The system has been envisaged for use eventually in situ in target water sources by developing suitable container devices . This would enable exposure of the test organism to actual field conditions and furnish unimpeachable authentic results.
The EWS paradigm
The paradigm conceived by Sharma (9)
for developing countries incorporates the identification
of several bioindicator species of organisms with the characteristics
enunciated for detection of about a dozen more commonly occurring
hazardous chemicals in Indian waters. Identification of a detectable
hazard is to be regarded as an early warning and the system called
EWS (Early Warning System). The EWS is conceived as an urgent
preliminary intimation to concerned local mandatory authority
for imposing immediate quarantine of the suspected water source.
It is expected that detailed investigations into the nature and
implications of the pollution hazard, remedial action , technical
corrective measures etc. would necessarily follow as a matter
of course. However, these would not come under the preview
of the EWS as envisaged here. The latter would be primarily
and specifically concerned only with urgent and initial high hazard
detection and conveyance of warning of same to nearest competent
Barring communities of some species already
recognised as the pollution indices , little data or information
exists on suitable biomonitors of the genre projected here. Apart
form the Aedes aegypti larvae already mentioned, Sharma
et al(8) has also been working on several other potential
bioindicator species. These include other invertebrates such as
Chironomous, Cyclops, Earthworms etc. and vertebrates such as
Fish (10). Regenerative capacities of invertebrates such as Hydra
and certain Piscine species have also been studied to evaluate
their potential for bioindication as projected here. The overriding
objective of these studies is the development of a practical,
technically and economically feasible, and user (literate villagers,
for example) friendly EWS for Indian, and in general, Afro-Asian
Multiplying chemical and microbial wastes from industrial and other human activity, without adequately dependable systems of detection and remedy called for urgent development of early warning systems using biomonitors as described briefly above. Such research is in its infancy , and not many schools are known to be pursuing it. Its potential and impact on safety and health of teeming populations in many developing countries is inestimable.
Timely recognition of hazards which can affect health or even safety of humans, livestock and / of general environment becomes an ethical imperative for guardians of human communities, as also for the universal need for environmental quality conservation. Development of simple EWS systems to achieve this in even rudimentary centers of welfare and extension has become urgent to safeguard ecosystems and their diverse biota, including human communities, and therefore a moral responsibility for governments as well as non-government agencies.
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