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A deathtrap? High mercury content in Sewri mudflats

The Sewri mudflats,home for thousands of visiting flamingoes every year,may contain lethal levels of mercury — a heavy metal,long-term exposure to which is fatal to fauna as well as humans.

Written by Nitya Kaushik | Mumbai |
June 10, 2009 1:21:18 am

The Sewri mudflats,home for thousands of visiting flamingoes every year,may contain lethal levels of mercury — a heavy metal,long-term exposure to which is fatal to fauna as well as humans.

A chemical analysis conducted by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) on a segment of the Sewri swamps near the Colgate Palmolive factory has detected dangerously high mercury content,at 23.05 mg per litre. According to it,the permitted mercury concentration for the mudflat ecosystem is a mere 0.01 mg per litre.

The Sewri mangrove swamp,large parts of which belong to the Bombay Port Trust,is rich in blue green algae,small fish and prawns that comprise the standard diet of Lesser and Greater flamingoes. With abundant food and a favourable weather,more than 5,000 birds visit these mudflats between December and June every year. Incidentally,the catch found here is also consumed by some local fisherfolk.

Revealing the test result of the water sample collected on May 19,MPCB regional officer,Mumbai,B D Wadde said,“While pesticides were found below detectable levels,other pollutants and metals were absent in the water analysis; but mercury at 23.05 mg per litre is very high. We are trying to pinpoint the reason for the high mercury content at the spot.”

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The board will soon initiate an extensive test and it plans to collect water samples from various spots of Sewri,as well as similar ecosystems in Wadala,Mahul and Gateway of India for an in-depth chemical analysis.

Sanjay Kandhare,board member secretary,said,“Since there are no industries spilling out effluents in the mudflat,we are not clear where the mercury came from. It could be the outcome of a shipwreck nearby or it could be a natural occurrence. Only an exhaustive test can throw light into the matter.”

Meanwhile,Lt Colonel J C Khanna,secretary of the Bombay Society for Prevention against Cruelty to Animals (SPCA),where the injured flamingo was taken for treatment,said the bird had died last week. “When the flamingo was brought here,it was suffering from severe diarrhoea and was vomiting blood. Initially,it showed signs of improvement and even began eating well,but its vital organs were weak.”

Khanna said the bird also suffered a paralysis attack later. “The toxicity had affected its brain and the bird stopped walking or even lifting its wings.”

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