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Bangladesh Water Poisoning-Arsenic

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  • Bangladesh Water Poisoning-Arsenic

    WHO says arsenic problem in Bangladesh is largest mass poisoning of a population in history
    Bangladesh, Apr 30, 2007

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that naturally occurring arsenic in Bangladesh and eastern India's West Bengal state is resulting in the largest mass poisoning of a population in history, warning that up to 80 million people may be affected. The arsenic is contaminating water coming from underground tube wells, which were introduced widely in the region over the last 20 years as a cheap alternative water supply to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. Tube wells are steel cylinders sunk into the ground to varying depths to provide underground water for irrigation and drinking. However, prior to the well construction, no testing was done for potential dangers such as arsenic. Now, people in the region face a terrible dilemma, says Timothy Claydon, Bangladesh country representative of Water Aid. Claydon says, "People here can't drink surface water because it's bacteriologically contaminated, but they also can't drink tube-well water because in many areas it contains naturally occurring arsenic often over three times higher than the UN recommended level." Aid agencies disagree over the best course of action. Some argue the battle for clean water should concentrate on cleaning dirty surface water, which causes diarrhea and cholera, and kills an estimated 20,000 people a year, compared to only around 13,000 proven cases of arsenic poisoning. Others argue the priority must be given to the battle against arsenic poisoning, since it takes longer to develop and may eventually kill more people. At low concentration levels, it is thought to take between eight and 14 years for the physical symptoms of arsenic poisoning to emerge. Arsenic is normally secreted by the kidneys, but over a prolonged period of ingestion, the body cannot remove the poison fast enough, resulting in increased levels in the system. Continued arsenic poisoning results in the enlargement of the liver, kidneys and spleen, which often develop into malignant tumors, lung, skin and bladder cancers and gangrene.