Skip to comments.World facing 'arsenic timebomb'
Posted on 08/30/2007 3:14:33 AM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu
About 140 million people, mainly in developing countries, are being poisoned by arsenic in their drinking water, researchers believe.
Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) annual meeting in London, scientists said this will lead to higher rates of cancer in the future.
South and East Asia account for more than half of the known cases globally.
Eating large amounts of rice grown in affected areas could also be a health risk, scientists said.
"It's a global problem, present in 70 countries, probably more," said Peter Ravenscroft, a research associate in geography with Cambridge University.
"If you work on drinking water standards used in Europe and North America, then you see that about 140 million people around the world are above those levels and at risk."
Arsenic consumption leads to higher rates of some cancers, including tumours of the lung, bladder and skin, and other lung conditions. Some of these effects show up decades after the first exposure.
"In the long term, one in every 10 people with high concentrations of arsenic in their water will die from it," observed Allan Smith from the University of California at Berkeley.
"This is the highest known increase in mortality from any environmental exposure."
The international response, he said, is not what the scale of the problem merits.
"I don't know of one government agency which has given this the priority it deserves," he commented.
The first signs that arsenic-contaminated water might be a major health issue emerged in the 1980s, with the documentation of poisoned communities in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.
In order to avoid drinking surface water, which can be contaminated with bacteria causing diarrhoea and other diseases, aid agencies had been promoting the digging of wells, not suspecting that well water would emerge with elevated levels of arsenic.
The metal is present naturally in soil, and leaches into groundwater, with bacteria thought to play a role.
Since then, large-scale contamination has been found in other Asian countries such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam, in South America and Africa.
It is less of a problem in North America and Europe where most water is provided by utilities. However, some private wells in the UK may not be tested and could present a problem, Mr Ravenscroft said.
Once the threat has been identified, there are remedies, such as as digging deeper wells, purification, and identifying safe surface water supplies.
As a matter of priority, scientists at the RGS meeting said, governments should test all wells in order to assess the threat to communities.
"Africa, for example, is probably affected less than other continents, but so little is known that we would recommend widespread testing," said Peter Ravenscroft.
His Cambridge team has developed computer models aimed at predicting which regions might have the highest risks, taking into account factors such as geology and climate.
"We have assessments of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, for example, and then we look for similar basins elsewhere.
"There are similar areas in Indonesia and the Philippines, and very little evidence of tests; yet where there has been some testing, in (the Indonesian province of) Aceh for example, signs of arsenic turned up."
Asian countries use water for agriculture as well as drinking, and this too can be a source of arsenic poisoning.
Rice is usually grown in paddy fields, often flooded with water from the same wells. Arsenic is drawn up into the grains which are used for food.
Andrew Meharg from Aberdeen University has shown that arsenic transfers from soil to rice about 10 times more efficiently than to other grain crops.
This is clearly a problem in countries such as Bangladesh where rice is the staple food, and Professor Meharg believes it could be an issue even in the UK among communities which eat rice frequently.
"The average (British) person eats about 10g to 16g of rice per day, but members of the UK Bangladeshi community for example might eat 300g per day," he said.
The UK's Food Standards Agency is currently assessing whether this level of consumption carries any risk.
The title of this article on the BBC website at the time of posting: “World facing ‘arsenic timebomb’” .
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Hasn’t it occurred to these intellectuals that the arsenic has probably been in the drinking water for centuries? So how can it be called a “time bomb?”
Agree with you, but now they've found arsenic in their water, they should try to get the poison out of what they drink and grow their food with.
Do the modern filtration purification systems filter it out, or not?
Yes. Its levels in the public water supply are controlled.
This no doubt a call for more government regulation.
So, the reverse osmosis systems on well water would filter it out well?
I need a sterile bubble.
“they should try to get the poison out of what they drink and grow their food with.”
This sux. One of the great joys in my life has been shopping at the ethnic markets in my town and cooking authentic foods from various places. Now grains from India/Bangladesh are off the table.
Good thing I don’t like rice.
Most rice sold in the US comes from Louisiana and Texas. No problems there.
No Basmati? No way.
Arsenic in the water is not a serious contender for the Global Warming follow-on. They are looking for something SUVs emit such as mall shoppers and soccer players.
No worries til we are faced with an ‘Old Lace’ epidemic in conjunction.....
“The UK’s Food Standards Agency is currently assessing whether this level of consumption carries any risk. “
So let’s freak everyone out and put this disclaimer at the END of the article.
If you have cattle in the area, it’s always a good idea to get a yearly test for bacteria in your well water. Maybe a more intense analysis every other year for other unhealthy items.
0.045% of the worlds population.
That is about the same as that one kid in highschool with the kooky eyes = lets make everyone wear glasses = government solves the problem again. /sarc
It states in the article that, at least in the case of Bangladesh and West Bengal, the arsenic did not appear until aid agencies drilled wells.
I have previously read that in Bangladesh aid agencies were proud to have designed a new type of shallow well that was very easily constructed. This greatly reduced illness caused by drinking contaminated surface water and the wells were drilled everywhere. But it turned out that under the entire country was a soil layer containing arsenic and this poisoned all the wells.
It's a timebomb because even low levels of arsenic gradually accumulate in the body. The other article I was reading showed a man in Bangladesh with one of the common symptoms of long-term arsenic consumption, blisters on the bottom of his feet.
That stinks. Well water is one of the primary sources of potable water in poor countries. River water is iffy because everyone uses it to dump trash. It turns out that everyone will have to used municipal water in order to stay healthy. The problem is that many of these families probably either don't have access to or can't afford to use municipal water.
THIS IS HIGH-GRADE BS!
No evidence has been presented that arsenic accumulation in the human system has led to “premature death” from drinking ground water.
There are many studies showing that arsenic can accumulate in marine life and certain plants and a steady diet of these would contribute to a more concentrated dose; if this is the etiological supposition, then it would be better to approach such a problem using an educational approach on dietary habits and the importance of a varied diet.
This guy won a $1 million prize this year for his solution to the arsenic drinking water problem.
I just called may reverse osmosis water supplier, and they tell me that reverse osmosis does remove arsenic. [They take city water and then do reverse osmosis on it.]
I’m no authority, but I think you would want to have it tested regularly—and not just for arsenic.
Much appreciated. We have it on city water, too.
But we have well water if we have to go to it.
Greatly apprecaite your time and bother to answer my questions.