A Research Study On The Pampa River Pollution During The Pilgrimage Season


Rivers are important water resource for our planet. Rivers have played an integral part in the evolution of human civilization. Mankind is using rivers in innumerable ways and at the same time fouling it. This is a sounding knell of many rivers. Rivers have always been the life lines of development and with the course of time have borne impacts of development and industrialization leading to the abstractions of that water body besides the wastes being released into it. The physical and chemical characters of a river have a major role in sustaining its biota and maintaining the quality of its water. Any change in the parameters will result in alteration in the water quality and resultant changes in the diversity of its flora and fauna.

Industrial and domestic discharges will produce diverse impacts on the quality of water receiving it. Even though the flowing water bodies or lotic systems, have the capacity to recharge and self cleanse themselves in a given period of time. They rarely can do as fast as they are being used or polluted. Water quality deterioration is imminent in such riverine systems. In the recent past, expanding human population, industrialization, intensive agricultural practices and discharges of massive amount of wastewater into the river have resulted in deterioration of water quality.

The Pampa River is the third longest river in the state of Kerala after Periyar and Bharathapuzha. Sree Dharma Sastha temple, Sabarimala is located on the banks of river Pampa. The river is considered as holy and then called as Dakshina Ganga located in 80 17' 30' and 120 47'40''N latitude and 740 24'47'E longitude having a length of 176 kms in its course. The river is one of the most stressed rivers in Kerala due to uncontrolled sand mining, pilgrimage, encroachment, reclamation, poaching etc. Therefore, the river water is heavily polluted with suspended and dissolved solids, total and faecal coliforms and heavy metals besides a high dissolved organic load.

The prime pilgrimage centre located in the banks of the river Pampa having a season extends from December to February with 45–50 million devotees visiting the place every year. The pilgrims proceed to the temple for dharsan after having a bath in the river. They also use the river water for sanitary purpose too. The contamination during the pilgrimage season is alarmingly high in the river and it is unfit even for bathing as per the CPC Boards standards. The river is also being contaminated in its downstream course with waste materials and sewage released from nearby towns, markets, hospitals, rubber factories and slaughter houses etc. Due to its relationship with the lively hood of millions of people residing near and using it, to meet their basic needs the river is being included in the NRCP (National River Conservation Plan). The high level of pollution in the River Pampa during the annual Sabarimala pilgrim season is posing a serious health issues in lakhs of pilgrims visiting the place is a matter of grave concern. The pollutants are normally carried to the downstream affecting lakhs of people who are the directly and indirectly using the river water for bathing drinking and agricultural purposes. The bacterial load in the river during the pilgrimage season is too high and most of the identified ones were found to be resistant to all major antibiotics. this also can induce diseases in other organisms.


Water Quality Studies

Water samples were collected from three study sites at Sabarimala stretches of Pampa River. The study spots were fixed based on the level of pollutants received by the river. Three sample spots were identified for the study. Station 1. Damsite: This region has the presence water even during summer. Pilgrims makes it a perfect dumping yard of their waste. Moreover the outlets of the public toilets were also opening in to this place. Station 2. Triveni: This region is downstream to the dam site. This site is having bathing ghats on both the banks. Here also the left overs of the pilgrims were noticed. Station 3: Vadasserikkara: This spot is located around 53 kms down course of the river.

The water samples were collected at monthly intervals for a period of one year covering three seasons, i. e. pre pilgrimage season (June to September), pilgrimage season (October to January) and post Pilgrimage season (February to May) in 2013-14. Physicochemical and biological water quality parameters were analysed. Standard methods were used for the collection, preservation and estimation of water samples according to APHA (1998).

All samples were subjected to microbial analysis. The bacterial populations in different samples were estimated by Mc Conkey agar for total coliform count and MPN for fecal coliform count. The cultures were identified genus level based on the tests prescribed by Bergey’s manual of determinative bacteriology. The results were then tabulated and presented.

Impact of Bacterial Stress on the Naematology of Anabas Testudineus (BLOCH)

Escherichia coli and Aeromonas hydrophila were selected as inoculums for this study on the fish selected the Anabas testudineus (Bloch). E. coli was selected, as they were frequently encountered in the water samples from the study area. On the other hand, Aeromonas hydrophila is included as they are fish pathogens in tropical fishes. To evaluate the effect of stress of E. coli and Aeromonas hydrophila on the haematology of Anabas testudineus (Bloch) the bacterial cultures of known initial inoculums density was inoculated into fibre tanks containing fishes. The haematological parameters were estimated at 10th, 20th and 30th day interval and results are presented in this study.

Biofilm Formation by Bacterial Isolates

Most of the bacteria possess the capacity to form extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) the matrix by an association of micro-colonies which may enclose communities of bacterial cells composed of one or more species to form biofilm. The arrangement of cells in these matrixes is in such a significant way that they are normally beyond the access of antibiotics and also the human immune system. Therefore, the treated fishes were subjected to scanning electron microscopic studies to identify the presence of biofilim formations over their body and on organs which are in contact with water. The SEM photographs were taken and interpreted.

Effect of Ferrous Chloride on Anabas Testudineus

Based on the report in The Hindu Nov 2009, contaminated ferrous chloride was used in an unscientific way for the treatment of waste water in Pampa River for the past few years. Such treatments without an environmental impact study will surely lead to potential public health hazards to the aquatic organisms and people using the water in the downstream reaches of the river. Static bioassay study was made to determine the acute toxicity of FeCl3 on Anabas testudineus (Bloch) by the LC50 method and evaluated its effects on gills and muscles by histopathological observations through chronic toxicity studies.


Water Quality Studies

The detailed analysis of the river water samples from three different sites in various seasons specifically in pre pilgrimage, pilgrimage and post pilgrimage season is absolutely necessary to assess the average pollution load of the Pampa river. The monthly analysis of water samples for various factors such as temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity, total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, total hardness, alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, nitrate, chloride, iron, total coliform and faecal coliform, etc were carried out in the above three seasons. The most of the physico-chemical and bacteriological factors observed higher values during the pilgrimage season with a higher value being recorded from site 1 and 2 was an indicative of the pollution by high pilgrimage. Total and faecal coliform count was also observed in the study. The study also identified certain common bacterial strains present in the water. Remaining studies were conducted based on the above findings.

Impact of Bacterial Stress on the Haematology of Anabas Testudineus (BLOCH)

Anabas testudineus (Bloch) under treatment of inoculums containing E. coli expressed significant variations in its haematological parameters. The total erythrocyte count decreased sharply in the 10th day and then slowly increased on the 20th day and this again decreased in the 30th day. The leucocyte count also showed increased values on the 10th day and a decrease was noticed on the 20th and 30th day. The haemoglobin content recorded a decrease in the 10th day and then increased gradually on the 20th and 30th day. The changes in the PCV values were higher than the control value on the 20th and 30th day. The absolute values such as MCV, MCH & MCHC were significantly different in the experimental groups when compared to that of the control value. The blood parameters of fishes exposed to Aeromonas hydrophila also showed significant changes. The WBC values of treated fish showed significant reduction on the 10th day. The values of RBC, PCV and Hb were significantly higher than those in the control in 20 and 30 days. The treated fishes showed fluctuations in the absolute haematological values of MCV, MCH and MCHC. The microscopic measurements of blood cells in treated fishes showed distinct variations. The normal sized elliptical sized erythrocytes in control fishes became enlarged in treated fishes. Considerable changes in diameter of leucocytes in both treated groups were also noticed.

Biofilm Formation by Bacterial Isolates

The fishes exposed to bacterial inoculums were analysed for the presence of bio film by scanning electron microscopy. The SEM photographs under sufficient magnifications showed the occurrence of bio film in their skin and gills. The possible reason for bio film formation may be due to an increase in density of the bacterial population and protective mechanism showed by bacteria to overcome the stressed conditions. Presence and formation of biofilm may lead to the continued presence of these bacteria in the environment and may also lead to a possible multiplication under favourable conditions. The presence of biofilm may also alter the normal physiology of the organisms and thereby its general health condition.

Effect of Ferrous Chloride on Anabas Testudineus

The LC50 values were determined from the probit transformed responses in Anabas testudineus treated with Ferrous chloride. 110th concentration of 48 hr LC50 was calculated as sub lethal dose for chronic toxicity studies. For evaluating the sublethal effects of ferrous chloride the experimental fishes were kept for a period of 30 days. At every 24 hrs the bacterial inoculums were changed. The behavioural changes of the organisms as well as histopathological changes on gills and muscle tissues of treated fishes were studied using standard histological analysis. Major histopathological alterations were identified microscopically and significant changes noticed were micro photographed and presented in the study.

Summary and Conclusion

The above study clearly revealed that the river is highly polluted during pilgrimage season. The effect of pollution during the pilgrimage season was carried even to the downstream part of river kilometres beyond. The heavy bacterial load during the pilgrimage season is disastrous to the biota especially to the life and survival of fishes inhabiting the river. The chances of secondary bacterial infections in human beings cannot be ruled out. Any chemical used for the treatment of sewage and its overuse can cause deleterious effects on animals at the site of application which are even carried to the downstream causing disastrous environmental degradation. The sanitary provisions available at Sabarimala are generally inadequate. Only crude methods are practised to avoid these contaminants. All these r further deteriorate the water quality of the river leading to the gradual removal of aquatic fauna of the river. It may also have an effect on the general health status of the population using the river for drinking and bathing purposes. The present study implies the need for the withdrawal of all the unscientific chemical treatment methods now employed at Sabarimala. Such treatments should be made after conducting an environmental impact assessment study of chemicals use for treatment. Setting up of required infrastructure such as high capacity sewage treatment plants at Pampa and Sannidhanam with proper drainage system, which should not have any direct access to the river. Proper awareness campaign to pilgrims to avoid open defecation and also dumping of clothes and other materials as part of rituals.

The chemical introduced for the treatment of sewage at the site of origin can affect the organ system of the animals especially fishes, which even carried to downstream causing disastrous environment degradation. It can be suggested that the sanitary provisions in sites of pollution are inadequate. Continued pollution of the river may deteriorate the water quality leading to the extinction of existing aquatic fauna and it also affect the human population using the river for drinking and bathing purposes, in the form of bacterial infections and tissue level changes. The present work also implies the effects of unscientific river treatments without any environment impact study will be hazardous to the aquatic organisms, arrest the discharge of faecal and other hazardous wastes into the river. No sewage and waste from toilets are to be let off to the river directly to avoid bacterial contamination.


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09 March 2021
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