India: Study Finds Heavy Metals in Autistic Children.

Posted at: Jan 28, 2018, 12:52 AM; last updated: Jan 28, 2018, 1:31 AM (IST)

Heavy metals, deep impact

Jasmine Singh in Faridkot
Toxic metals have poisoned the subsoil in some parts of Punjab to an extent that children have developed deformed limbs — many suffer from mental disorders. Cancer and heart diseases among adults are rampant

Jasmine Singh in Faridkot

A general physician would tell you the name of the disease and recommend a treatment, but the findings of Baba Farid Centre for Special Children — a registered NGO — bring out alarming facts.
A study conducted by the Centre for 2009-18 suggests that heavy metals may be responsible for a steady decline in sperm count, disturbed ovulation cycles, increasing menstrual disorders, sterility, spontaneous abortions, premature births and birth defects. Children have become particularly vulnerable. They are weak and prone to multiple types of diseases. 
The findings
The latest findings say there has been a massive increase in the prevalence of autism, mental retardation and learning disabilities. To assess the damage of toxic metals, the centre sent urine samples of 200 autistic children to a German lab, Micro Trace Minerals run by Dr E Blaurock-Busch, a known authority in heavy metal testing. “We sent the samples to the German lab because in India we don’t have such a biomedical assessment readily available,” says Dr Pritpal of Baba Farid Centre.
Out of 200 children, lead was found to be as high as 300mg in 94% (maximum permissible limit is 5 mg). Nickel was found to be as high as 150mg in 96% (maximum permissible limit should be less than 3 mg). “Most of the heavy metals are toxic in nature and some (lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, barium, nickel, aluminum and uranium etc.) are dangerously toxic. Most of these are not biodegradable, so their levels keep increasing. Such a high body burden of dangerously toxic metals should be taken as a warning signal,” says Dr Pritpal Singh, a whistleblower on the issue of increasing uranium in water.
The reason
Dr Pritpal and his team regularly visit villages in and around Faridkot. They believe that these heavy metals are reaching the environment in dangerous amounts from reckless human activities. “Use of heavy metals in products like pesticides, herbicides, medicines, paints and cosmetics should also be curbed. Chemical farming is playing havoc with the environment. It is responsible for the rising levels of heavy metals in more than one way,” says Dr Pritpal.
The first findings of the centre in 2009 had sparked a controversy, following which the Punjab government ordered a probe. A report by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) found that out of the 250 samples, 147 had an extraordinary content of uranium. 
Prevention better than cure
“It is indeed a serious issue. We are spending money to prevent cancer incidences but only after the disease is detected. The answer lies in educating the people and farmers in particular,” says Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon, Congress MLA from Faridkot.
“Punjab, especially the Malwa region, is reeling under the ‘cocktail effect’ of heavy metals. The Green Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s resulted in dumping of dangerous chemicals such as endosulfan in our soil. These pesticides are still used in Punjab long after these were banned,” says Dr Pritpal.
Dr Navtej Singh, professor of pathology sees a rise in the number of cancer patients. “These findings should not be ignored. We know pesticides, insecticide and the residue of heavy metals in soil are polluting the groundwater and the subsoil. The topic is debatable, but we are still insisting on a toxin-free food chain.”
The answer to the problem, if truly accepted by the government, lies in biomedical testing of the food chain and moving to better farm practices. Since the treatment, which means detoxifying the body of the metals, requires at least Rs 1-2.5 lakh, affordability is a big question.
Dr JS Thakur, professor, School Of Public Health, PGI, is reviewing the studies on the presence of heavy metals in Punjab. Yet he accepts water contamination. “The levels of arsenium, fluoride, inorganic pollutants, pesticides and other heavy metals are beyond permissible limts.” Is this the reason of rise in cancer cases in Malwa region?, Dr Thakur calls cancer a multi-factorial disease. “Chemical toxicity could be a contributing factor,” he said.
Heavy metal poisoning
  • Dr Amar Singh Azad, pediatrician and chief consultant of Baba Farid Center, refers to a study conducted by the Center under the guidance of German Scientist, Dr Elenore Blaurock Busch and South African clinical metal toxicologist, Dr Carin Smit. It says leaky gut, which is caused by intake of heavy metals and toxins, can cause constipation, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, allergies and auto-immunity among children. 
  • Excessive fertilizers still being used since Green Revolution have led to metal toxicity. “Use of chemical fertilizers has made the soil poisonous. Industries must not discharge waste directly into the soil. Excessive use of groundwater should be curbed,” says Nirbhey Singh Dhudhi, president, Kirti Kisan Union. 
  • Heavy metal detoxification as a treatment of chronic poisoning is becoming popular in the West. Scientists have evolved a protocol. It includes good nutritional practices (including organic food), nutritional and herbal supplements and nature cure. Such treatments should be made a part of mainstream medical profession, experts say.
The centre of professionals
Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, Faridkot, is an NGO that was started in May 2003. It is an organization of dedicated professionals from various streams working for children affected by autism spectrum disorder, mental retardation, learning disorders and cerebral palsy through traditional and modern methods. It has branches in Bathinda, Patiala and Ambala. The Faridkot centre admits only 12 children at one time. The NGO does not get any support from either government or corporate bodies.