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Alarm raised over toxic weed

D.V.L. Padma Priya

Leafy vegetable being grown near polluted water

— PHOTO: NAGARA GOPAL

Health hazard: Alligator weed being sold in local vegetable markets .

HYDERABAD: Remember Popeye and his famous can of spinach? Well, all green leafy vegetables are not exactly Popeye’s power-giving spinach. And the old adage ‘green is gold’ certainly doesn’t apply to this green leafy vegetable called ‘seema thotakura’ or ‘alligator weed’.

Known with different local names such as ‘seema ponnaganti’ or ‘silvan bacchal’, the hollow stemmed weed with pointed leaves is increasingly gaining popularity among city dwellers. Available for Rs. 2 or Rs.3 per bundle, the weed is being sold in many vegetable markets. So what’s so dangerous about it? The innocent-looking green leafy vegetable is not rich in iron or vitamins but is instead, a storehouse of toxic heavy metals, point scientists in the city.

Carcinogenic

Picked up from polluted water bodies in the city such as Hussainsagar and Musi River, it is in fact an indicator of pollution, says M.V.S. Prasad, Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Hyderabad. Prof. Prasad, who has carried out extensive research, says consumption of the weed has ‘carcinogenic and mutagenic’ effects on human health. However, an official of Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) says consumption of this weed is unheard of and not yet brought to their notice. “Alligator weed is an invasive alien species which spreads automaticallyAny alien leafy vegetable is referred to as ‘seema thotakura’ or ‘seema ponaganti’ in the local jargon. So we need to first confirm if what is being sold is Alligator Weed and then analyse it,” said the official.

Prof. Prasad agrees about the jargon but says that the weed is being sold widely. “During the course of my research I found the weed being widely sold with different local names in many markets such as Uppal, Nallakunta and Monda etc,” he said adding that consumers don’t question the origin of their food. Prod the vendors a little and they will tell you that the weed grows in ‘water’. “We get it from water bodies close to Madanpet, Dilshuknagar and Nagole,” says a vendor at Monda.

Native to South America, it is considered as one of the worst weeds in the world, says Chintala Sudhakar Reddy, Scientist, Forest and Ecology Division, National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA). “It is commonly found in urban water ways, drainages and sewage sludge and has the ability to absorb several heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, chromium and copper,” he says.

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