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Cooum, the most polluted Tamil Nadu river Cooum, the most polluted river

Vani Doraisamy

The first State-wide survey of Tamil Nadu rivers undertaken



A TOXIC COCKTAIL: The Cooum near the Central Station, Chennai. Photo: N. Sridharan

CHENNAI: : The Cooum now has an unenviable distinction: it is the most polluted, followed by the Cauvery, the Noyyal, the Adyar and the Bhavani, according to a survey by Anna University's Centre for Environmental Studies.

The draft report of the survey, `Assessment of water quality in rivers of Tamil Nadu', was submitted to the Environment Department on Wednesday. This is the first such State-wide survey undertaken.

The parameters were water turbidity, total dissolved solids (TDS), biological oxygen on demand (BOD), chemical oxygen on demand (COD) and coliform bacterial counts.

Chennai, the Coimbatore-Tirupur-Erode industrial belt, Madurai, the Tiruvannamalai-Villupuram belt and Tiruchi have been identified as `hotspots' that cause the maximum amount of pollution from waste water and sediment-borne discharge. Cuddalore, Erode and Dindigul fared slightly better.

"The Cooum and the Adyar were found receiving high loads of effluents from Chennai. While the Adyar showed a high BOD count, the Cooum had a very high COD content, which indicates high toxicity and absence of any biological activity," Dirk Walther of the centre said.

The survey was conducted from November 2004 to January 2005 in 39 sampling stations in 13 major river basins and 31 sub-basins.

Rivers such as the Cooum, the Adyar, the Cauvery, the Vaigai, the Noyyal and the Tamarabarani were covered.

The Palar, one of the most polluted, was left out because it had completely dried up.

Salinity level

The salinity level in the Vaigai had gone up five times since 2001. The Tamarabarani fared better than the other big rivers. The Cauvery basin in Tiruchi was worse than Thanjavur. Upstream Cooum was more polluted than the downstream. "While the city generates only domestic effluents, municipalities and panchayats upstream contribute the maximum pollution load," S. Balaji, Director, Environment Department, told The Hindu .

The survey had a few revelations. The Noyyal was more polluted in Coimbatore than in the heavily industrialised Tirupur. Tiruvannamalai, which the department considers a `green town', was identified a hotspot.

"This calls for a more intensive study over an extended period of time. Study results may vary depending on the time and place of sample collection," Dr. Balaji said. The survey also identified the `best designated use' criteria, as developed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, for use of river water for drinking, bathing or irrigation.

The increased TDS content in most rivers was because of human activity and depletion of water that led to concentration of pollutants.

Based on the mapping, the department would identify a few hotspots and river basins for intervention under its river conservation programme.

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