Pesticides may have helped in controlling crop damage and increasing yield, but their usage has become so widespread in India as to pose significant health risks to its population. After extensive application, pesticides like DDT and Aldrin have been banned to check further damage to health and environment. However, most of these chemicals have a considerably long lifetime, and are present in the environment for hundreds of years.
A team of researchers in IIT-Madras has developed a technology called nanoparticles that can effectively treat and eliminate one of the most obstinate chemicals in pesticides called organochlorine, present in the unpopular pesticides like DDT, endoulfan, dioxin and aldrin. Seema Singh reports about this successful experiment in Mint:
“Even though some of these pesticides have been banned, they are very much present in the environment. For instance, endosulfan has an environmental lifetime of 100 years,” says T. Pradeep, professor of chemistry at IIT Madras. His nanoparticles, mostly from gold, silver, copper and several oxides, are effective on endosulfan even at very low concentration. “Efficient chemistry at low concentration is important so that even if one molecule of the pesticide passes by, it gets removed by the nanoparticle,” adds Pradeep.
The next challenge for the research team is to formulate ways to make the technology percolate to the people who need it most, in rural areas. The costs need to be brought down to a large extent to make it accessible to the country’s poor.
Eureka is interested in taking this technology to rural population but the high cost of manufacturing could hinder the outreach for some time. “We intend to take this up as a no-loss, no-profit venture but that will have to wait until production goes up (and cost comes down),” says Abhay Kumar, general manager of water technologies division at Eureka in Bangalore. A community water purifier prototype, using nanotechnology filter, is under construction. It is scheduled to be installed in Kasargod district, one of the endosulfan-affected areas in Kerala, by March.
“This effort has to multiply, through all possible channels – industry, non-governmental organization and most importantly, government machinery,” says Pradeep, whose interaction with the Central water resources ministry turned out to be a one-way affair. Under the US Clean Water Act of 1972, the extent of contaminants in a glass of water is decreasing, but the number of contaminants entering potable water is increasing, says Pradeep.
It is sad to know that India ranks among the lowest in drinking water quality standards set by the UN (120 out of the 122 nations judged). However, these rankings should be taken as an eye-opener that imminent action is necessary. And we are glad to hear this piece of good news from one of the premier educational institutes of the country. We wish them luck in successfully taking their findings to the masses so that many can benefit from the advances in technology.
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Image Courtesy: RSC.org