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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Arsenic poisoning linked to gold mines

19th November 2012

High levels of arsenic have been found in the soil and groundwater in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, near goldmines, according to a team of scientists who carried out recent testing there.


The findings in the Kiradalli Tanda village of Yadgir district, where arsenic contamination in the groundwater is 30 times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) limit of 10 parts per billion, have highlighted the health hazards associated with goldmines, experts said.

Kiradalli Tanda lies just four kilometres (2.5 miles) from a gold mine, and several cases of suspected arsenic-induced skin diseases and cancers have been reported there.

Writing in an online article in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the research team said that the arsenic could have come from mine tailings, the waste products piled up after gold has been extracted.

According to study lead author Dipankar Chakraborty of the School of Environmental Studies at Kolkata's Jadavpur University, several villagers were recently hospitalised with skin-related problems.

The team were asked to investigate after doctors suspected arsenic in the village's drinking water might be behind the cases.

They took hair and nail samples from 171 village residents, which were found to contain unsafe levels of arsenic.

Some of the soil samples they took from the village had arsenic levels more than 200 times the WHO limit.

Meanwhile, a 2009 study carried out by the Karnataka state government and UNICEF showed high levels of arsenic in groundwater samples collected from more than 800 villages in the Yadgir, Raichur and Gulbarga districts.

Arsenic pollution has been strongly linked with mines, especially abandoned ones, with high levels of the dangerous chemical reported in gold mining areas in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Ghana and Slovakia.

Geology experts Debashish Chatterjee and Pradeep Sikdar said that the geological settings in which gold is found are usually also home to arsenic.

According to Chatterjee, from the Indian Geological Survey, when the gold is removed as a mineral, arsenic is left behind and is washed down by rain into the soil and groundwater in and around the mines.

Anyone who lives in close proximity to mines should have safe drinking water piped into their homes, so as to avoid poisoning, he added.

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