The Hazards of the "Holy Dip and Holy Sip;" A Case for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment in Varanasi, India Open Access

Green, Hugh Henry Wescoat (2014)

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Background: The inhabitants of Varanasi, India rely upon the Ganges River as a water source for drinking, bathing, and religious activities. Due to population pressure, the capacity of the sanitation system of the city of Varanasi has been exceeded, allowing untreated wastewater routinely to be discharged directly into the Ganges River. Diarrheal disease is a major threat to the public health of inhabitants of Varanasi, as it is second leading cause of death in children under five years of age and the leading cause of death in children five to fourteen years in India.

Objective: This study assessed the microbiological quality of Ganges River water at Varanasi from May 29th to June 25th 2013 to determine if concentrations of Total Coliforms and E. coli exceeded national standards set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). This quantification of the magnitude of fecal contamination in the river can support advocacy efforts for improved sanitation and wastewater treatment interventions.

Methods: Five sample locations on the Ganges River were selected based on bathing population size at peak bathing hours in excess of 30 people. Water samples were collected daily from highly used ghats (stone steps into the river), where inhabitants and pilgrims worship, bathe, and conduct everyday activities. Samples were tested for Total Coliforms and E. coli using the IDEXX Quanti-Tray 2000® method to assess overall water quality and fecal contamination.

Results: A total of 165 water samples were collected and analyzed. E. coli concentrations ranged from 2.93 x 103 to 3.97 x 105 with a geometric mean of 2.77 x 104. None of the water samples met the CPCB standards for drinking, bathing, or agriculture. Total Coliform concentrations were found to be nearly 100 times over permissible limits. Moreover, there were spatial and temporal differences in microbial concentrations between the sites.

Conclusions: Fecal contamination of the Ganges River at Varanasi presents a serious public health issue. Bathers are at risk of exposure to fecal contamination and related enteric pathogens at Varanasi's bathing ghats. While the sites varied in indicator organism concentrations both spatially and temporally, all the indicator concentrations measured in the samples were well above national and international standards for safe water. These results indicate the critical need for improved collection and treatment of municipal wastewater in Varanasi before discharging effluent to Ganges River.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents List of Tables II List of Figures I Introduction 1 Disease Burden 2 Hazards of Recreational Water Contact 5 Sources of Pollution 6 Sewage Treatment for the Indian Condition 8 Regulatory Challenges 9 Partner Organization 11 Purpose of the Study 12 Methods 13 Sampling Locations 13 Sampling Technique 14 Sampling Processing 14 Water Microbiology 16 Most Probable Number of Bacterial Concentration 17 Data Management 19 Statistical Analyses 19 Results 20 Distribution of Microbial Concentrations 20 Spatial Analysis 24 Temporal Analysis 26 Discussion 30 Introduction to the Problem 30 Approach and Limitations 31 Findings 32 Strengths of the Study 38 Recommendations for Future Research 39 Recommendations for Action 41 Conclusions 44 References 46

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