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The Incorruptibility of the Ganges

The Ganges is 2525 kilometers long. Along its course, 27 major towns dump 902 million liters of sewage into it each day. Added to this are all those human bodies consigned to this holy river, called the Ganga by the Indians. Despite this heavy burden of pollutants, the Ganges has for millennia been regarded as incorruptible. How can this be?

Several foreigners have recorded the effects of this river's "magical" cleansing properties:

  1. Ganges water does not putrefy, even after long periods of storage. River water begins to putrefy when lack of oxygen promotes the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which produce the tell-tale smell of stale water.
  2. British physician, C.E. Nelson, observed that Ganga water taken from the Hooghly---one of its dirtiest mouths---by ships returning to England remained fresh throughout the voyage.
  3. In 1896, the British physician E. Hanbury Hankin reported in the French journal Annales de l'Institut Pasteur that cholera microbes died within three hours in Ganga water, but continued to thrive in distilled water even after 48 hours.
  4. A French scientist, Monsieur Herelle, was amazed to find "that only a few feet below the bodies of persons floating in the Ganga who had died of dysentery and cholera, where one would expect millions of germs,there were no germs at all.

More recently, D.S. Bhargava, an Indian environmental engineer measured the Ganges' remarkable self-cleansing properties:

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"Bhargava's calculations, taken from an exhaustive three-year study of the Ganga, show that it is able to reduce BOD [biochemical oxygen demand] levels much faster than in other rivers."

Quantitatively, the Ganges seems to clean up suspended wastes 15 to 20 times faster than other rivers. (Kalshian, Rakesh; "Ganges Has Magical Cleaning Properties," Geographic, 66:5, April 1994.) From Science Frontiers #94, JUL-AUG 1994. 1997 William R. Corliss  http://www.knowledge.co.uk/frontiers/sf094/sf094g11.htm



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