Sunday, June 20, 2010

Millions in Bangladesh exposed to arsenic in drinking water

A new study says that up to 77 million people in Bangladesh are being exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, potentially taking years or decades off their lives. An international team of researchers followed 12,000 people over the past decade, monitoring their arsenic intake and mortality rates from contaminated wells. By the end of the study, one in five deaths were determined to be directly related to elevated arsenic levels in their system. Stretch that over the entire population that takes its water from wells, and the impact is daunting. The problem has been known about for years, if not the overall deadly impact. Well-meaning development groups had encouraged remote villages across Bangladesh to dig wells over the past decades, rather than rely on potentially contaminated surface water and dirty rivers. But now potentially a much worse problem has been found far below the surface. Arsenic is found in abundance in the soil and rock in Bangladesh. It's leached up through the water table in tens of millions of water wells across the country. The study showed that the top quarter of those exposed had a 70% higher mortality rate than would be expected in the population as a whole. Other long term health studies have shown it takes 20 years for the negative morbidity effects of arsenic poisoning to dissipate, even after they stopped using contaminated wells.

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