Kidney disease and reverse osmosis to get clean water in the short term
Posted on December 22nd, 2016

Chandre Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada

The government,  some private sector groups, and NGOs have  spend a large amount of money on reverse osmosis (RO) machines for the purification of water as it was advocated  by a number of people who feared  that there are metal toxins (Arsenic, Cd, etc) in the water. The claim that metal toxins are found in the Rajarata environment was also politicized by a number  Keleaniya university activists who invoked the word of God Natha.

They  claim that the country is awash with agrochemical poisons (“wasa visha”),  and that the kidney disease in the Rajarata is due to agrochemicals. That is the public perception which is contrary to the main-stream scientific and medical opinion.  Ven. Rathana (JHU) is a  leader of the “Vasha-Visha Naethi Ratak” program which seeks to ban all fertilizers and pesticides.

Agricultural scientists are unanimous that the best approach is to use a mixture of organic and inorganic fertilizers designed to meet the needs of each type of soil (which is full of living organisms), and that simple minded knee-jerk solutions for complex processes (like agriculture) do not exist.

They have banned glyphosate which is a herbicide that is believed to be  safe by all  main-stream scientists. According to the WHO-FAO, a 60 kg person can drink up to 12 tea spoons a day and yet not get sick.

(the Wikipedia article on Glyphosate  claims that you can drink twice as much without getting sick! I think that is an error). No other country has banned it for agricultural use

although there are some misleading internet reports to the contrary.

No farmer drinks the stuff, even to commit suicide as it is hardly toxic and so it is not an efficient way of killing oneself!  Protective clothes are not necessary as the substance is very benign even though it contains a small percentage  of toxic adjuvents. Many field experiments show that when farmers use it without protective clothes, only  micro-gram quantities get ingested into the body and so it is  harmless because even the adjuvents are ingested at microgram quantities. There are modern formulations without toxic adjuvents.

RO machines are used mainly to clean sea water or in specialized applications. In Sri Lanka ordinary water is re-cleaned with Ro machines!;  a frightened public is a good market for the RO companies. In Colombo some private homes have also invested in RO machines. Some of the NGO- charities  may also be genuinely convinced that they are doing the “right thing”.

RO machines need imported parts and  membranes from, say,  Dow chemicals, and use electricity. A liter of water costs a farmer anything from 50 cts to one rupee. The impure part of the water from RO machines is thrown back into the environment.

When the Water Board Scientists (and also Japanese scientists, WHO-NSF scientists) analyzed the water, and water  input (from rivers, irrigation canals and tanks) to the RO machines, they were found to be quite good for drinking except for the need for a simple filtration and perhaps chlorination step! So RO  is not even needed in most cases.

The people with the Kidney disease live in poor “colonization villages” a bit further away from the rivers and canals; so they use their own backyard wells

(examples given in the attached pictures) which contain water that does not get adequately replenished as it is the dry zone; since the wells are away from the water table of the tanks and canals, fresh water cannot adequately reach the wells either (this was tested using isotopes added to the well water to check if the isotopes seep out to the water table). So this stagnant water dissolves a lot of geological salts, fluorides etc., and I think (and many scientists also think so), that it is this well water containing various salts of geological origin which is at fault.

So we need to give clean water to those farmers living in more remote areas, away from the good water available from the  weva and irrigation canals.

The cheapest and most effective solution is to give these villagers storage tanks for collecting rain water from their roofs. This has been tried for an year in the village known as Ginnoruwa, under the effort of the late Mr. Ranjith Mulleriyawa (an agronomist) and it seems to work (i.e., one can collect enough water to last the whole year). I visited that village during 12-13 Dec this year as well,  and some of the pictures provided  here  are from that visit.

It costs Rs. 75,000 (at most) to install a rainwater tank for a family of five, and from then on there are no costs except for minor repairs to taps etc (as the monkeys and “Rilawas”  come and break the taps to drink the water!). In contrast, setting up RO plants cost about 200 times and it has continual running expenses.

The attached pictures show:

  1. A backyard well used by a Farmer family
  2. Another backyard well.
  3. Household rain-water tank fed from roof
  4. Two large rainwater collection tanks used at

the school in Ginnoruwa.

  1. Farmer in front of his house, drying paddy (Keeri samba)

But the government (and its “vasha-visha nathi ratak” campaign) seem to be  keen on RO machines, and now they have installed quite a lot of such machines and wasted a lot of money that could have been used to provide  rain water at a cost of less than one cent per liter, instead of 50cts- to one rupee per liter.

If you allow 50 liters per day for a family of 5,  they need 1500 liters per month, and RO water will cost the farmer upto Rs 1500 per month. Rain water will cost the farmer Rs15. This Rs 15 is obtained by amortizing the cost of the plastic tank (Rs 75,000) over its long life period.

One of the farmers stated that he believes that his CKDu is due to a snake bite, and attacks from hornets that he had suffered in 1986. “These things happen due to divine wrath and bad Karma”.  He said that  well water was “Kivul” but he had been drinking it until 2016 January when his family got a donation of a tank for rain water collection. His wife has diabetes.

I have been writing about this for several years, and pointing out that the problem is not the use agrochemicals but the lack of clean water. The Sinhala press does not even publish our articles, and accuse us to be “Vash Visha kompaeni valin salli gaththu Mahaacharya varu”).

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Chandre Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada

On Wednesday, December 21, 2016 8:28 PM, Laya Alles <> wrote:

Hello Chandre,

I saw your interview on the television.

I need a little help from you.

Here is the question

How can reverse osmosis help contain th problem in the short term dn what are your views on the issue.

What are the alternatives?



7 Responses to “Kidney disease and reverse osmosis to get clean water in the short term”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    There are membrane technologies available in the market to remove toxic trace elements such as Arsenic Cadmium Fluoride etc from drinking water.

    I have experience in installing these plants offshore in UK, however, operating cost of these plants are comparatively high due high pressure operation requirement to make water molecules to permeate through the membrane, but not the trace elements.

    Then you will have an effluent stream with high concentration of toxic trace element that you need get rid of.
    If you are not concerned about contamination of the aquifer water you can reinject the effluent stream to the deep aquifer which is normally acceptable.

    So the government should consider water treatment plant for each region.

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    MFRO plant costs are going down since popularity gradually increased. Initially costs were very high. I am talking about major plants (bigger than 50 ML/day) which clean sewer outfall water.
    The author is probably talking about very small plants. I believe a major plant per region will be more appropriate, although the initial capital is high. It will also generate some permanent jobs and technology transfer, if handled properly.
    Problem with loan based and aid based projects is there in technology transfer. It shouldn’t be that way, especially for loan funded projects, it is our money and we should dictate the terms.

  3. Lionel Says:

    Dear writer,
    I do’t know about your background. If you have lived in a village in your childhood, you could have seen the changes happened to the environment during your lifetime. What happened to those beautiful yellow butterflies migrated in thousands through villages once a year? What happened to the fish called Teliya, found in hundreds in paddy fields? Please don’t promote pesticides saying people can even drink them like coke. That is ridiculous. Every pesticide does some sort of harm to the environment and people. Yes we know it is difficult to grow crops without using chemicals now days. But if Sri Lankans can do without Glyposate let them do it. Don’t compare using Glyposate in vast farm lands in countries like USA or Australia to a tiny island like Sri Lanka. The impact is totally different.


  4. aloy Says:

    Through the efforts of persons like Dr. Channa jayasumana and others who have taken upon themselves to educate the farmers about the dangers of using harmful chemicals like Glyphosate and drinking purified water the incidence of CKDu have reduced. What we should do is work on the same line and give these farming communities large scale water supply projects to Rajarata area. Our scientists and doctors have already identified the cause so why waste time and money again for massive research projects.
    I have read that the Chinese are going to establish a massive research project costing $200 million. Is that another loan or aid to be paid back with interest?. The Chinese are the biggest environmental polluters of the world. They cannot breath the air in their own cities. My feeling is that they are establishing such a large facility not for our benefit but for some other strategic purpose. Our GOSL should tell them to use that loan or whatever for a water supply projects in the affected areas instead.
    There was a time the controller of pesticide in SL himself started writing in this forum promoting dangerous pesticides. When we confronted him he stopped. Now this writer has descended from where ever he is living and started promoting this Glyphosate produced by multinationals without any shame. I have even seen a news item that he had been invited by a body the president himself setup to protect environment to deliver a keynote address in a seminar.
    I have a feeling that all this is a conspiracy against the Rajarata farmers. They somehow want to eliminate them. Who actually are these guys?.

  5. S.Gonsal Says:

    Self proclaimed “patriots” fail to accept real dangers to nation and are having biased views on certain “names”. Whenever a friend writes, they protect them at ALL COSTS, yet hypercritically don’t care about the blatant lies in the article and commentators are penalised instead. TRAITORS acting as PATRIOTS !

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    I AGREE with Chandre Dharmawardana.

    These are attempts by SOUTH ENDIAN rice whole sellers in Endia and SL to make BILLIONS by condemning SL rice as POISON. As a byproduct they want to DESTROY the livelihoods of MOST Singhalese – paddy farming.

    Already the stupid govt. is trying hard to do both these.

    We have to stop this madness.

    Whatever I say here is UNPOPULAR. Anyway I’m NOT here for a popularity contest. People should THINK before supporting a position. I too thought at some point these stories had some truth. Not anymore.

    Glyphosate ban should be LIFTED.
    Cadmium madness should be stopped. People spreading lies should be punished.
    Our RICE INDUSTRY should be protected.

    Imagine you have a farm and weeds grow. ONE WHACK of round up will kill all weeds within 2 weeks. YOU can do it yourself.

    IF glyphosate is NOT available you need at least 3 people to MANUALLY WEED those. Where can you get cheap labor to do that? ENDIA!! This is the plan of the ENDIAN LTTE GOVT.

    Wells belonging to Singhala people along the imaginary “TE BORDER” have been deliberately poisoned by LTTE agents. It is NOT due to glyphosate or cadmium. They CANNOT do so to rivers. So rivers that carry MOST glyphosate pose NO health risk!!

    We import glyphosate from CHINA not from Monsanto. Do you see the Endian connection in the ban?

    Before believing GOD NATHA please read KALAMA SUTRA. Please listen to FARMERS. They know best.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    Also agree with NEELA that clean water distribution is the BEST SOLUTION.

    IF we wait till we find the ROOT CAUSE hundreds of thousands of farmers will die. WE CANNOT WAIT.

    The SOLUTION must go ahead.

    Ayurveda doesn’t know if a sickness is caused by BACTERIA or VIRUS. It does NOT matter. IF a cure can be found that is it.

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