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Friday 21st October 2016

Arsenic in Bangladesh wells

22nd June 2010

Tens of millions of Bangladeshis are at risk of dying early, because their drinking water is contaminated with arsenic, according to a recent US study.


Arsenic, a mineral and one of the elements on the periodic table, is carcinogenic and highly toxic to the liver, skin, kidneys, and cardiovascular system.

The researchers found that 20% of deaths in the Bangladeshis they studied were caused by arsenic exposure.

Habibul Ahsan, of the University of Chicago Medical Center, who led the study, said that tens of millions of Bangladeshis were at high risk of dying early.

He said that something urgently needed to be done, and that people needed to find alternative drinking water sources.

Ahsan said that, across the world, people in many places got their drinking water from wells contaminated with arsenic.

As many as 77 million people in Bangladesh, or roughly half of the population there, have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic of contaminated wells.

Because arsenic is found in higher concentrations closer to the centre of the earth, arsenic contamination is a naturally occurring in particularly deep wells.

Ahsan said that, in addition to the West Bengal region of India, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and the US all had groundwater contamination from arsenic.

But according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bangladesh has the largest mass poisoning of a population in history, due to its levels of arsenic contamination in water.

In Bangladesh, well water accounts for some 90% of people's fresh water.

Ahsan said that, while there are other countries where arsenic levels in water were high, it was a bigger problem in Bangladesh.

For the study, the research team took urine samples of 12,000 Bangladeshis over a period of two years.

The researchers also sampled the water, testing for high levels of arsenic, and did health assessments of people every two years.

After six years had passed, the researchers compared arsenic exposure rates to people's rates of death.

They found that people whose exposure to arsenic was very high were 70% more likely to have died during the six year study period.

People who drank moderate levels of arsenic-contaminated water were more likely to die from chronic diseases than people whose arsenic exposure levels were below WHO recommended limits.

Ahsan said that, while scientists knew very high levels of arsenic were harmful, they did not know what doses were actually safe.


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