Heavy metals are among the most persistent of pollutants in the
aquatic ecosystem because of their resistance to decomposition in
natural conditions . High concentrations of these metals can be
released into the aquatic environment as a result of leaching from
bedrocks, atmospheric deposition, water drainage, runoff from
riverbanks, and discharge of urban and industrial wastewaters [2-3].
The elemental anomaly in the groundwater regime once created
through natural processes or by unintended or unethical human
intervention, often goes unabated. The toxicity of an element depends on
the dose, the chemical form, route of exposure, bio-availability,
distribution in the body, and storage and excretion parameters.
In recent years, considerable interest has been focused on
assessing the human health risk posed by metals, metalloids, and trace
elements in the environment. It has long been recognized that large
areas of the globe contain human populations characterized by having
trace element deficiency, or excess including chronic poisoning [4-6].
Many current examples of environmental health problems are the
result of long--term, low-level exposure to heavy metals. One notable
example is the widespread poisoning caused by high arsenic levels in
well waters in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.
During the past several decades, studies in a number of other
locations have demonstrated widespread occurrence of trace elements in
water at concentration signifycantly higher than background levels.
Elevated trace element concentrations are not limited to certain
water types or polluted areas; they appear in all type of systems and in
all geographic areas. It is clear that metal enters the aquatic system
from diverse sources, both point and non--point and can be readily
transported from a-biotic to biotic system
In Aligarh City, India, famous for its lock and hardware
industries, the population may be at risk because of mobilization of
metals from the electroplating processes used by these industries. Most
of these operations are conducted in dark alleys in the city where there
is neither proper drainage nor a proper sewer system. It has been
reported that at some places the effluents from the local industry has
been pumped into the bore wells that joins the groundwater used for
drinking purposes. To assess the mobilization of metals from these
activities six groundwater samples, from the hand-pumps used for
drinking purposes, were collected and analyzed for their trace element
1.1. Health Status
In the third world countries environmentally related diseases are
rampant. In the poor cities, environmental problems tend to originate in
or around the home where crowding, smoky kitchen, garbage, pets,
unsanitary food and dirty water continues to plague the inhabitants day
in and day out. The inhabitants are susceptible to a range of
environmentally related diseases owing to the high density of
population. The population density of the study area is 16,500 persons
per sq. km. The population density of India's Capital New Delhi is
9294 persons per sq km and that of India as a whole is 324 person per sq
km. This is high in comparison to the density of United States with
about 80 people per sq mile. According to recent estimates, premature
death and illness due to major environmental health risks accounts for
nearly 20% of the total burden of disease in India, second to
malnutrition and greater than all other preventable risk factors and
casual disease group .
Aligarh is the main producer of locks in India it has the major
portion of the population engaged in lock related industries. A study
related to health problems in Aligarh District was conducted by Hanif et
al , to asses lead toxicity in lock factory workers. The study
concluded that 60% of the subjects in the study group who were exposed
to lead in the lock factory had blood lead levels more than 40
[micro]gm/dl. The mean for the control and study group was 22.29
[micro]gm/dl and 48 [micro]gm/dl respectively, a statistically
significant difference in the study group and the lock factory workers.
A study conducted by Atiq  (2006) on the prevalence of diseases
and poor living conditions in Aligarh city concluded that 55% of the
total households sampled suffer from diarrhea/dysentery, 43% jaundice,
42% malaria and 41% respiratory diseases. About 40% suffer from skin
diseases and a similar percentage suffers from small pox/chicken pox.
Whereas 35% of the people reported other diseases (i.e. hypertension and
diabetes). Only 14.42% reported tuberculosis.
Down to earth  (2008) reports that more than 80% of the
groundwater in Aligarh is susceptible to contamination with 50% of the
city's groundwater resources at high risk. 24% moderately
vulnerable and only 19% somewhat safe.
All these studies [8-10] refer to poor health status of the
inhabitants of the Aligarh City. No single study was conducted to asses
the concentration of trace elements in the drinking water of Aligarh
city and its probable effects on the health of the inhabitants. This
paper deals with a short review of the various health effects related to
trace elements (i.e. nickel, zinc, iron, lead, cadmium, cobalt, copper
and manganese) and their concentration in the groundwater of Aligarh
1.2. Study Area
The study area lies between latitude 27[degrees]50' and
28[degrees]N and longitude 78[degrees] and 78[degrees]5'E (Figure
1) and is spread over 152 sq km.
The area lies between the Karwan River in the west and the Sengar
River in the east and is a part of the Central--Ganga basin. The central
depression and western upland are two prominent physiographic units of
the area. The NW-SE trending upland forms the eastern margin of the
western upland and sub parallel to it lies the central depression due
east. The elevation varies from NW--SE with an average gradient of 0.26
m/km. Usually, the surface down to a depth of 20 to 25 cm is a
well-drained soil and contains loose loam that can easily be cultivated.
The pH of the soil ranges from 7 to 8. Iron and alumina remain constant,
whereas, magnesia is less through out the area.
The area falls under sub-tropical climatic zone and is
characterized by hot summer and chilly winter. During summer the
temperature shoots up to 47 [degrees]C and in winter the temperature may
fall to 2[degrees]C. The monsoon normally breaks in the second week of
June and ends in September. Heavy precipitation takes place in the
months of July and August. The area on an average receives 760 mm of
rainfall per year.
1.3. Synopsis of Geology and Hydrogeology
The Ganga basin is one of the largest groundwater repositories of
the world. It is located between the northern fringe of Indian Peninsula
and Himalayas and extends from Delhi Haridwar ridge in the west to
Monghyr--Saharsa ridge in the east. The study area forms part of this
vast basin. In the study area the bed rock encountered at a depth of 340
meter below ground level is upper Bhander red shale of the Upper
Vindhyan group of Proterozoic age which is further overlain by
quaternary alluvium. The river Ganga and its various tributaries derived
from the newly risen Himalayas and also from the northern fringe of the
peninsula deposited the quaternary sediments on the eroded surface of
the upper Vindhyans.
Hydrogeologically there is a three to four tier aquifer system.
Aquifers seem to merge with each other, thus, developing a single bodied
aquifer. The granular zones comprise 40 - 50 percent of the total
formations encountered at various depths. This makes the aquifer
vulnerable to contamination. In the southeast the clay formation attains
considerable thickness and predominance of the clay to the granular
zones form 50% of the total litho units encountered. However, the clay
beds pinch out laterally. The shallow aquifers in the area mainly
comprise fine to medium sands and vary in thickness from 3 to 26 meters.
The groundwater occurs in these aquifers under phreatic condition. Due
to excessive withdrawal of water from these aquifers, they are highly
strained. The discharge of these wells varies from 30 to 50 m/hr at a
nominal draw down of 3 to 4.5 meters. The elevation of water table
ranges between 179mts in the northwest to 171mts in the southeast above
the mean sea level. The general flow of groundwater is northwest to
southeast in consonance with the over all trend of groundwater flow in
the Ganga basin save minor alteration that are governed by local
lithologic and anthropogenic factors .
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Risk assessment is essential for the effective management of
groundwater resources. There are two components to the risk of pollution
from groundwater-groundwater vulnerability and contaminant load.
Groundwater vulnerability is the intrinsic susceptibility of the
specific aquifer in question to contamination An aquifer that is close
to the surface, overlain by sandy soil, and located in an area with high
precipitation rates would clearly be more vulnerable to contamination
than an aquifer in an area of low precipitation that is hundreds of
meters below ground surface and overlain by clay soils or other
relatively impervious material . In the light of the above criteria
groundwater in the study area is vulnerable to pollution.
2. Material and Method
Groundwater is the only source of water supply in the area. In the
absence of any effective water law there is substantial extraction from
the shallow aquifer. Shallow aquifer being the main source of potable
water supply in the area, the water samples were collected from the hand
pumps in one liter polythene bottles and duly treated with 6N
[HNO.sub.3] at the site itself. Atomic absorption Spectrophotometer was
used to find--out the concentration of the trace element in the
collected water samples.
The results of the analytical analysis are given in the Table 1.
Nickel generally poses no threat to humans because its absorption
from food and water is very low. It is not known to cause any health
problems when people are exposed to it at levels above the Maximum
Contaminant Level (MCL) for relatively short periods of time. The long
term or occupational exposure of nickel causes the following effects:
decrease body weight, heart and liver damage, and skin irritation. If it
goes to the respiratory tract it increases the risk of lung and nasal
cavity cancer. The MCL level of nickel in drinking water is 0.1mg/l and
0.07 mg/l . The concentration of nickel in the drinking water of the
Aligarh City area ranges between 0.14 0.22 mg/l. This is above the MCL
established by the USEPA and WHO. Thus, there is a probable threat from
nickel to residents of the area if their consumption of the water is for
the lifetime, as it is for most residents.
Nickel is one of the most mobile of the heavy metals when released
to water, particularly in polluted waters, where organic material will
keep nickel soluble. Though nickel does accumulate in aquatic life, it
does not become magnified along food chains. Nickel released to the soil
may leach into ground water or be washed into surface water. The primary
source of nickel in drinking water is leaching from sanitary fixtures.
The main threat of nickel contamination comes from the industrial
pollution of groundwater.
The importance of zinc to human nutrition has been recognized since
1962 when overt zinc deficiency was observed among rural inhabitants of
the Middle East . The daily requirement of Zn for an adult of 70 kg
is 15 mg. Likely concentration of Zn in drinking water is 0.1 - 0.245
mg/lt. If a person drinks two liters of water per day than he gets about
1.3% - 3.3% of the Zn requirement through water. The desirable limit of
zinc established by the Indian Council of Medical Research is 0.1 mg/l
and the maximum permissible limit is 5 mg/l. The concentration of Zn in
the groundwater samples of the area ranges between 0.062 to 1.798 mg/lt.
Save for a few samples the concentration of Zn in the groundwater is
more than the desirable limit but less than the maximum permissible
The desirable and maximum permissible limit of iron in the drinking
water is 0.1 and 1 mg/lt, respectively. The concentration of iron in the
shallow groundwater of the study area ranged between 0.26 - 1.66 mg/l,
which is above the desirable limit and at some location it was found to
be above the permissible limit. Thus, there is the possibility of iron
toxicity in the area. Iron is most abundant in earth's crust but
its deficiency occurs throughout the world. This is because humans have
a mechanism that prevents excess absorption of iron. This is because
iron is toxic when accumulated in tissues in high concentration. Iron is
necessary for the activity of cytochromes, peroxides, catalase, and
certain other hemoprotien and flavoprotien enzymes. According to the
results of some experimental studies conducted on rodents, iron
deficiency significantly increases the incidence of certain type of
tumors and multiplied sensitivity of animals to some carcinogens .
When administered parenterally, iron is a highly toxic element. Humans
are generally well protected from oral overdose, but children from 1 to
2 years of age are particularly vulnerable to iron toxicity from
ingestion of iron supplements that have been commercially prepared for
The permissible limit of lead in drinking water is 0.01 mg/l. The
concentration of lead in the drinking water of the study area is from
nil-0.211 mg/l that is above the permissible limit set by standard
agencies and can cause ill effects on the health of the consumers.
The main source of lead in groundwater is from the rocks containing
lead sulfide and oxides. The household plumbing fixture made up of lead
may contribute lead in the drinking water. The other contributors are
the leaded gasoline and lead in paint.
The beneficial effects of lead are not known. No biological
function of lead is known. Lead taken into the body can be injurious to
health. The bulk of lead contamination in the human body is of
nutritional origin. High exposure to lead may cause decreased fertility
and ovulatory disturbances and increase malformations and abortions. It
may also cause renal and gastrointestinal disturbances. Children exposed
to lead pollution are under high risk of mental retardation, impaired
learning ability, disturbances of peripheral nervous system, and renal
atrophy. The study of the lock factory workers of Aligarh  shows that
blood lead level is high. The cause may be exposure to lead in the lock
factories supplemented by the lead from drinking water. The situation
behooves immediate intervention by the government to take preventive
measures in ensuring good health.
The recommended permissible limit of cadmium in drinking water is
0.003 mg/l  and its concentration in the study area water ranges
from 0.021 - 0.723 mg/l. Cadmium is least soluble in water when pH is 8
- 9 and become more soluble with the decrease in pH. The pH in the area
ranges from 7.6 - 8.6. The value of 8.6 is found in only one sample. The
rest of the samples had pH less than 8. The dissolution of cadmium would
be more because the pH is less than 8. This makes the area a potential
cadmium hazard zone owing to the vast metal and electroplating
industries working in the city.
Cadmium is frequently used in electroplating and in pigment
manufacturing industries. Cadmium occurs in zinc ores and is an
important by-product in the zinc metallurgy.
Of all the toxic metals, cadmium has drawn a great amount of
attention in Aligarh City. In high amount, Cd is a deadly poison, but
even small amount taken over a long period of time accumulates in the
biological system and causes serious illness. It is mainly retained in
liver and kidney, causing pathological changes in hepatocytes and kidney
tubules. The major effects in the persons occupationally exposed to
cadmium are lung diseases and renal functions [18-20]. In addition,
exposure to cadmium can lead to high concentrations in the blood and
increased frequency of chromosomal deformities. Nervous symptoms
disorders caused by cadmium toxicity include; dizziness, headache,
cramps, and loss of consciousness . The best-described accident
related to discharge of cadmium into water is the occurrence of
Itai-Itai disease among residents along the Jintsu River in Japan .
The residents were not only exposed to cadmium through drinking water
but also through the rice grown in the contaminated water. There is also
evidence from animal studies that cadmium is implicated in the etiology
of hypertension . Recent experimental studies indicate that cadmium
at very high doses can interfere with the activation of vitamin D in
both liver and kidneys to the final active 1, 2,
In the study area cobalt ranges between 0.368 - 0.561 mg/l.
Cobaltous sulfate, Co[SO.sub.4], a red crystalline substance that is
readily soluble in water, is used in decorating and plating and for
remedying cobalt deficiencies in cattle and sheep . The richest
source of cobalt in human diets is green leafy vegetables. Cobalt is
present in igneous rocks in small amount but quite common in basic and
ultra basic rocks. During the process of weathering it forms solution
but may be adsorbed by oxidized sediments. It is an essential element
for all living beings as it is the part of vitamin B12 molecule.
Deficiency of cobalt in the geological background affected the health of
sheep and cattle in many parts of the world (Europe, New Zealand, and
The desired level of copper in potable water is 0.05 mg/l . The
concentration of Cu in the groundwater of the study area ranges between
0.05 and 0.63 mg/l.
At a normal concentration copper is a biologically important trace
element; at elevated concentration it is toxic for living organisms. It
is an important and indispensable element for the vital functions of
humans, animals and plants. It is a component of enzymes-oxidases
(cytochromoxidase, ceruloplasmin, superoxide scavenger, tyrosinase,
urateoxidase, etc.) [26-28]. In terms of its adverse impact on organisms
(both terrestrial and aquatic) copper ranks among the most toxic heavy
metals (after Hg and Cd) . Cu deficiency in food causes various
pathological states in animals, accompanied by disturbance of
hemopoiesis (anemia), dystrophic changes in the central nervous system,
and changes in the color and quality of hair . The deficiency of Cu
in the human body could indirectly increase the risk of skin cancer.
Because of the depletion of stratospheric ozone layer, skin cancer may
become more common. The health hazard would be much higher, if there is
coincidence of exposure of ultraviolet radiation and deficiency of
protecting factors . Symptom of Copper deficiency may appear, even
if the amount of the metal in diet is adequate, but there is excess in
sulfates, which reduce the solubility of copper--containing substances
in water and so its bioavailability for the living organism .
Copper in the body is capable of binding bacteriotoxins and
increase the activity of antibiotics . Reduced blood concentration
of trace element has been reported in pregnancy and pathological
conditions, e.g., anemia, renal disorders, leukemia, and certain type of
tumors; invasive diseases caused by worms are also connected with the
deficiency of Copper and Iron in the body .
The desired and permissible level of manganese in drinking water is
0.05 mg/l to 0.5 mg/l respectively. The concentration of manganese in
the groundwater of the area ranged from 0.057 to 0.261 mg/l which is
above the desired level and below the permissible limit. The groundwater
of the area thus does not appear to be a manganese hazard.
Multivariate statistical analysis techniques are widely used in
groundwater quality studies. It is an effective way to elaborate the
hydrochemistry of an area. In the present work the statistical analysis
is carried out to determine the natural association between the
variables and demonstrates the usefulness of the statistical analysis to
improve the understanding of the groundwater composition.
Correlation coefficient is used to measure the strength of the
association between two continuous variables. This tells if the relation
between the variables is positive or negative, that is, if one increase
with the increase of the other or one decreases with increase of the
other. Thus, the correlation measures the observed co-variation. The
most commonly used measure of correlation is Pearson's
"r". It is also called the linear correlation coefficient
because "r" measures the linear association between two
variables . The data were statistically computed using correlation
coefficient in order to indicate the sufficiency of one variable to
predict the other .
Pearson's Correlation Coefficient is usually signified by r
(rho), and can take on the values from -1.0 to 1.0.
Where -1.0 is a perfect negative (inverse) correlation, 0.0 is no
correlation, and 1.0 is a perfect positive correlation. The variables
having coefficient value (r) > 0.5 or < -0.5 are considered
significant. The correlation matrix is given in the Table 2.
Positive correlation exists between lead and cobalt. Copper cadmium
and manganese are positively correlated in the study area. The cadmium
concentration in the groundwater samples of the area was found higher
than the permissible limit. It means there is source of pollution that
is increasing the cadmium concentration in water. If the process
continues manganese and copper will also increase as they have positive
correlation with each other in the study area. Lead has a positive
correlation with cobalt. In the study area lead is found above the
permissible limit. Cobalt has a negative correlation with cadmium and
manganese. Iron shows the same relation with zinc. This indicates that
these variables have an inverse relation.
Principal component analysis (PCA), a multivariate statistical
technique, was initially developed as a tool in the social sciences but
has proven quite effective in groundwater quality studies [37-40]. The
technique is used for data reduction and for deciphering patterns within
large sets of data [41,42]. The multivariate analysis is used in making
the relationship between variables (water quality data). This technique
aims to transform the observed variables to a set of variables, which
are uncorrelated and arranged in decreasing order of importance. The
principal aim is to simplify the problem and to find new variables
(principal components), which make the data easier to understand .
The result of these techniques helps the interpretation of the data. The
numbers of factors, called princepal components (PC), were defined
according to the criterion that only factors that account for variance
greater than 1 (eigenvalue-one criterion) should be included. The
rational for this criterion is that any component should account for
more variance than any single variable in the standardized test score
The Principal component analysis generated four significant factors
that are given in Table 3. These factors explain 99.74% of variance.
Each factor consists of variable with eigen value more than 1. The
factor showing maximum variance (42.2%) is assigned number one position
and rest of the components is given in descending order according to the
variance. The fourth component which shows least variance (12.74%) is
given in the last. Those variables which have values [greater than or
equal to]0.5 are considered significant and are discussed here.
Factor 1 shows 42% variance. The significant variables in this
factor are copper, manganese cadmium, cobalt and lead. The first three
variables show positive loading while cobalt and lead show negative
loading (Pb 0.65; [C.sub.o]- 0.882).
Factor 2 consists of zinc and manganese with positive loading and
iron with negative loading. This factor shows the total variance of
Factor 3 comprises of nickel with total variance of 15.04%.
Factor 4 shows only 12.74% of variance and consists of lead only.
This suggests the concentration of lead is consistent in the area.
It is evident from the studies carried out in relation to the
prevalence of diseases and metal toxicity in Aligarh that this
industrial town has a poor health record. And the quality of groundwater
quality is also not good. The present study concludes that the
concentration of the trace elements i.e., nickel, iron, lead, and
cadmium in the drinking water of the study area is higher than the
permissible limits established by the World Health Organization (2006).
This high concentration may be causing the detrimental effect on the
inhabitants of the area that is evident from the poor health status. The
statistical analysis of the trace elements also shows that certain
elements that are causing damages have a positive correlation with each
other. So, the increase of one element may increase the concentration of
other element in the present conditions.
The present study had its limitations. Therefore to have more
conclusive results it is suggested that: water quality evaluation with
special emphasis to trace elements should be carried out on a monthly
basis. The soil and the crops cultivated in the surrounding of the town
which is consumed by the locals have to be evaluated to find the
concentration of trace elements in them. In the absence of any relevant
data base in the Public health departments a questionnaire is to be
prepared to assess the inhabitant's health status at regular
intervals. This questionnaire should also take feedback from the local
private clinical practitioners. A more comprehensive correlation between
presence of trace elements in the drinking water and prevalent diseases
shall be made to come to a final decision that it is the polluted
drinking water that is causing poor health in the town. Safety measures
have to be applied to protect the health of the inhabitants.
The author is thankful to Prof. Robert Bob Finkelman of University
of Texas, for helping in bringing out the paper in the present form. The
author is also grateful to Dr. Shadab Khursheed, Chairman, Department of
Geology, A.M.U. Aligarh for providing necessary facilities.
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Taqveem Ali Khan
Department of Geology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India
Table 1. Trace elements concentration in the study area in
Sample No. Location Iron Copper
1 Lal Masjid 1.661 0.0705
2 Rasoolpur 1.098 0.089
3 Ilampur 0.5261 0.203
4 BrahmanKNg 0.2603 0.1403
5 Sarsool 0.906 0.63
6 Sarai Rehm 1.487 0.0558
Sample No. Zinc Manganese Nickel
1 0.0622 0.089 0.221
2 0.0733 0.0125 0.147
3 0.696 0.057 0.2
4 1.798 0.193 0.219
5 0.18 0.261 0.19
6 0.143 0.0691 0.225
Sample No. Cobalt Lead Cadmium
1 0.445 0.013 0.148
2 0.409 0 0.075
3 0.561 0.211 0.021
4 0.445 0.028 0.0914
5 0.368 0.0018 0.723
6 0.473 0.023 0.1972
Table 2. Pearson's correlations.
Iron Copper Zinc
Copper -0.279 1.000
Zinc -0.828 -0.079 1.000
Manganese -0.369 0.774 0.358
Nickel 0.098 -0.183 0.322
Cobalt -0.211 -0.460 0.238
Lead -0.445 -0.053 0.235
Cadmium 0.098 0.891 -0.301
Manganese Nickel Cobalt
Nickel 0.272 1.000
Cobalt -0.507 0.350 1.000
Lead -0.282 0.106 0.885
Cadmium 0.762 -0.049 -0.673
Cadmium -0.409 1.000
Table 3. Principal component analysis Component Matrix.
Iron 0.109 -0.897
Copper 0.791 0.398
Zinc -0.248 0.838
Manganese 0.749 0.609
Nickel -0.182 0.291
Cobalt -0.882 0.238
Lead -0.650 0.441
Cadmium 0.939 8.991E-02
Initial Eigen values 3.376 2.381
% of Variance 42.200 29.759
Cumulative % 42.200 71.959
Iron 0.337 0.258
Copper -0.299 0.355
Zinc 0.194 -0.446
Manganese 0.250 3.461E-02
Nickel 0.886 0.312
Cobalt -6.451E-03 0.402
Lead -0.340 0.515
Cadmium -4.733E-03 0.320
Initial Eigen values 1.203 1.019
% of Variance 15.044 12.736
Cumulative % 87.003 99.739