A recent medical examination by doctors at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) left them shocked with the results.
The test for environmental toxins with serious illnesses whose cause could not be established, revealed that of the 216 patients tested, 32 (16 percent) had high levels of dangerous metals and substances, including arsenic, lead, chromium, fluoride, iron and cadmium in blood and urine, reported The Times of India.
The doctors told the daily that the findings have reaffirmed their concern about environmental toxins causing a sudden rise in many health disorders, including cancer, neuro-development disorders, congenital diseases and adverse pregnancy outcomes, chronic kidney diseases, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cardiac diseases, infertility and epilepsy.
Most of the toxins get into the human body via contaminated water, air and soil. "To establish the cause and effect between these toxins and the diseases, we plan to screen all patients with illnesses of unknown origin for heavy metals and other environmental toxins," Dr A Shariff, founder of the clinical toxicology lab at AIIMS, was quoted as saying by The Times of India.
Dr Shariff further said that a new lab has recently set up by AIIMS that has facility to screen patients for more than 17 heavy metals and toxins. Diagnosis is done through a blood test or analysis of urine sample, he said, adding, "We plan to expand the scope of testing further in the coming days."
The report quoted Director of AIIMS, Dr Randeep Guleria, saying that the identification of heavy metals in patients visiting AIIMS is only an index case. "Our aim is to spot trends involving patients belonging to specific areas, who have high levels of a certain toxin, and find the source," Dr Guleria said.
"For example, some areas have high levels of arsenic or iron in the water and this could be causing some illness. If we can establish this link, people in the area can be made aware of it. They can be warned about the polluted water source and local administration can take policy decisions to make safe water available," Dr Guleria added.
Cases of lung cancer among young adults, who do not smoke, are also detected frequently. Dr Guleria said that the blood tests to find the presence of environmental toxins may help find the links, if any, between air pollutants and the disease.
"If we can show through research the cause and effect relationship between environmental toxins and illnesses such as lung cancer, policymakers and the public will take the threat of pollutants more seriously and act to reduce it. That is our hope," TOI report quoted the AIIMS director saying.
According to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, contaminated water, air and soil are the main reason for about 9 million early deaths, which accounts for about 16 percent of global deaths. Around 92 percent of the early deaths are due to environmental toxicity that occurs in low and middle-income countries, including India.
Experts believe that children are largely affected by environmental toxins due to their exposure to even low concentrations during intrauterine life and early childhood can result in lifelong physical and/or mental disabilities, if not death. "There are multiple global researches that link environmental toxins to neuro-development disorders in children," TOI report quoted a paediatric neurologist saying.