Ratan Das : CSIR-CSIO Chandigarh,
Ayush Jain : IIT Delhi
Neelanjana Paul :NIT Goa
Shreyasvi : RV College of Engineering
The problem presented before us is the early detection and warning of toxic gases in the brine wells in the Kutch region.
Priority art search showed the presence of gases such as Methane (CH4) and Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S). These two gases are present in the brine wells that have been found in several parts of the worlds including Afghanistan as well as some parts of US. The toxic gases do not really tend to carry a huge impact to the people in the nearby areas but are moderately an issue for the locals.
In the past, there has been some research done in the field of toxic gas measurement in different perspective with almost no one done for detection of toxic gases produced by brine wells. The team could not found any literature on the internet that could give a clue about the types of gases found in the Kutch region and the steps taken in this direction.
Majorly, several types of sensors have already been developed that tend to detect the presence of any specific type of gases in the areas where their concentration is high. Using the same technique, toxic gases present in these brine wells can be predicted.
Due to the unavailability of the required data and lack of information regarding the actual situations on the fields it became imperative for the team to visit the region in order to gain a deeper insight.
Before the field visit:
During the first day of the same while carrying out the team formation and discussion in depth about the projects that are being implemented, mind maps were prepared on the first day with some in-depth research on the topic of toxic gas released while digging wells. The mind maps helped us to conclude the information that we had missed earlier. We would prepare another mind map including more details about the things that have been missed while preparing the first mind map. The concentration of gases will be found later during the field visit.
Introduction has been given in which we have been briefed about all of the ways in which the questions related to the problems faced by the farmers should be asked. The approach for the same is different compared to a normal conversation. The person who is asking the question must ensure that he asks all of the questions in an open conversation manner along with capturing all the moments where the emotions of the person being interviewed are revealed. The stepwise approach for the same would be to start with an introduction of ourselves in a decent manner, followed up with the introduction about the profession and asking about different experiences that they are having in their life.
The problems would be not visible at the first but would require you to be patient as well as cooperative with the people. The steps have to be executed smoothly in order to ensure that there is a good and fruitful conversation. The conservation should be ended by thanking them for their time and wrapping things up on a pessimistic note. While questioning the interviewer should not stick to the problems he has in mind, but rather he should try to understand the frame of the person being interviewed. At the end we should have most of our questions answered along with the details of the person being interviewed like his name, age, mobile number. Some details of the surrounding area like the amenities available, geography of the region(soil, water etc.), population should also recorded on the field visits.
Some don’ts that should be avoided during the questioning are taking a question paper during the interview, taking pictures and videos without the consent of the person being interviewed.
We will also be provided with some resources from the stanford university papers that would help us to ensure that we get a better insight about how the conversation should be carried out.
Field Visit to Rann
The team left for the Rann in the morning at around 4 o’ clock. The journey took around 6 hours and by 10 we reached Khara Ghoda which is a part of the Little Rann of Kutch. There we were received by Ambu Bhai, a local. His father was a salt farmer and he had done some salt farming in his childhood, due to which he was an asset for our enquiry. He told many things about the Rann, It is a barren land of salty mud which stretches over the area of about 5000 square kilometre. There is almost no vegetation there because of the high concentration of salt in the soil. After the monsoons, from the month of October, the salt farmers dig wells there in order to get the salty water which is used by them in the extraction of salt. This was an issue since there was no salt farming during our visit, berefting us of having a hand on experience of salt farming. The depth of the well varies from a couple of feet to around 15 feet. Steps were made in the well by digging out mud for going in and out the well. After that they bore deeper to around 60 feet to get the brine water, which then goes through a number of processes before the salt is obtained. When we asked Ambu bhai about how do the salt farmers determine the best where they should dig, he told us that there is no logic behind it and that it was like a ‘lucky draw’. Thus many times the farmers dig a well to find no water inside it.
During the processes of digging and boring toxic gases are released. The farmers working inside the well suddenly become dizzy and unconscious due to which they are unable to escape timely. This results in the death of many salt farmers every year. Again, the depths when the gases would evolve and their toxicity is uncertain, making it difficult for the farmers of predicts the event and use the necessary precautions. Ambu Bhai also told us about a certain Ganpat Bhai who was a victim of the exposure to these toxic gases. He was provided with timely medical assistance due to which he survived. We decided to visit the village where the Agarias live to know more about these toxic gases and know about the experience of Ganpat bhai, which could be very helpful in our quest. There we saw some wells dug which were not in use at that time and then we went to stay at the guest house of Gantar, an NGO committed to the education of the children of Agarias and other such issues.
We were greeted by around 10-15 Agarias when we visited their village. Ganpat Bhai was not there when we reached but he soon joined. The information which we get there was very useful. They told us that it was their experience that when a well is freshly dug and bored, there are no cases of toxic gases. But when they come to the well the next year and remove the cloth from the mouth of the pipe, there is a rapid evolution of toxic gases. In order to detect the gas the farmers lower a lighted stick into the well. If the stick extinguishes, then there is presence of toxic gases. They tie ropes around the waist of the person going into the well so that he can be pulled out in case toxic gases start coming out. But these precautions are seldom observed by the farmers and they do such practices only after some such events have already occurred. Then we learnt what happened to Ganpat Bhai. He told us that when he was inside the well he suddenly started feeling dizzy and become unconscious after sometime, due to which he unable to speak and ask for help. The farmers outside the well had a hard time saving him. Since he was not tied to any rope, the farmers sent a person in the well to tie rope around his waist. But as soon as this person reached the bottom he also became unconscious. He was brought out immediately till he regained his consciousness after which he was again sent down. This happened three times due to which the rescue operation took around one and a half hour. After that he was taken to a hospital in the nearby city where he was given oxygen. The timely help provided helped him in regaining his consciousness. He told us that he did not feel any odour of the gas when he was inside the well. Based on the descriptions provided by the farmers we came to know that the gas was extremely toxic, it was odourless and did not support combustion. Carbon monoxide was the prime contender of being this mysterious toxic gas.
The next day again went to the field with the aim to get some samples of the well water. We met Veer Singh who agreed to help us. He took us to his well which was quite shallow compared to the wells we had seen the day earlier. He removed the cloth which was used to cover the pipe bored into the ground. As soon as the cloth was removed we smelt unmistakable foul smell of hydrogen sulphide. This was a surprise since we were earlier told that the gas was odourless. We took the samples of the soil on the outer surface as well as from the depth of around 2 feet. We also took the water from the well in a bottle which contained the dissolved hydrogen sulphide. We then went to the village dispensary to gain some insight into the effects of the gas. The doctor told us that the main diseases prevalent among the salt farmers are asthma, hypertension. He also told us that many people have come to the village in the past with similar questions but no steps have ever been taken. We then visited the residence of Ganpat bhai and asked him to smell the gases coming from the water collected in the bottle. Surprisingly he said that he could not smell anything even though we could clearly smell the foul odour. This showed that due to exposure over a long period of time these farmers have become accustomed to the smell of the gases. It was an unexpected observation which led us to conclude that the major gas present in the well is hydrogen sulphide but the farmers could not detect it because they have become accustomed to the foul odour of this gas. Meanwhile we have the water sample and we hope that chemical analysis of the sample would give us information about the other gases present inside the wells along with their concentrations.
The mind map
Our team with the Agariyas