The Chhath Puja celebrations in Delhi highlighted the extreme levels of pollution from the Yamuna River flowing through the nation’s capital. During the Chhath Puja snan (holy bath) in Yumana, images of white foam emerged, leading to a war of words between the ruling party and the opposition.
Meanwhile, what remains ignored in this senseless political rhetoric is the “pathetic” state of the river which is Delhi’s lifeline as its water is tapped on both banks for domestic, industrial purposes. and irrigation. To meet the city’s ever-increasing water demand, the river is tapped at three points – the Wazirabad, ITO and Okhla dams.
According to reports, the 22-kilometer stretch of the Yamuna between Wazirabad and Okhla accounts for around 80% of the river’s pollution load. The section would be less than 2% of its 1,370 kilometer length, stretching from Yamunotri to Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.
However, the formation of toxic foam in Yamuna is nothing new. Each year during Chhath Puja, images of worshipers standing waist-deep in poisonous moss in the Yamuna River grab the headlines. But nothing has been done so far to understand the cause and rectify it.
How is foam formed?
Under natural circumstances, foaming on the water surface is very common. This phenomenon occurs on many lakes and rivers.
Foam bubbles are produced during the decomposition of organic matter. Dead and decaying parts of plants contain fat molecules that do not mix with water.
These are lighter than water, so they float on the surface and then gradually accumulate and form an invisible floating layer on the surface of the water.
Foam-producing molecules have one end that repels water and another that attracts water. This helps reduce the surface tension of the water.
Moss made from organic material in rivers and lakes can last a long time. But the amount visible in Yamuna cannot be explained by such a natural phenomenon.
What causes the foam?
The high level of phosphates in the Yamuna River is the cause of the formation of such a foam, scientists say.
Phosphates and surfactants in untreated wastewater from Delhi, Haryana and UP are another reason for foaming in the river.
Phosphates are an ingredient used in many detergents. These compounds greatly facilitate cleaning.
While the phosphates and surfactants in the Yamuna River make up 1%, the remaining 99% is air and water.
When the water is disturbed by waves, natural waterfalls or man-made falls from river dams, the fatty layer turns into foam.
Delhi Jal board vice chairman Raghav Chadha claims that waste is falling from a height at the Okhla Dam, causing foam to form.
Industrial effluents, organic matter from decaying vegetation and the presence of filamentous bacteria cause moss.
Short-term exposure to such moss in the Yamuna River can lead to skin irritation and allergies.
If ingested, these chemicals can cause gastrointestinal problems and illnesses like typhoid.
Long-term exposure to heavy metals contained in industrial pollutants can cause neurological problems and hormonal imbalances.