India's Sacred River Turns Toxic

The Ganges now greets pilgrims with the smell of 'toxic muck'
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2007 12:30 PM CST
Boys dive into the severely polluted River Ganges to beat the heat in Calcutta, India, Tuesday, April 24, 2007.   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) The Smithsonian travels 800 miles down the Ganges River in India to investigate the ecological degradation of one of the holiest sites in Hinduism. A symbol of purity for millions of pilgrims, the environmental reality is "pure toxic muck" laden with arsenic, mercury, and dozens of other pollutants. Twenty years after the Indian government launched a plan to save the river, conditions have only gotten worse.

"The river had turned the color of Coca-Cola," said one scientist in attendance at a Hindu festival alongside the Ganges earlier this year. But commercial pressures and accelerating population growth—400 million currently live nearby, a figure expected to double—seem to doom all preservation efforts before they begin. As for the pilgrims who come to bathe in the Ganges, they're now "an endangered species."