Arsenic and Unintended Consequences

A significant study reported in recent issue of the British Medical journal “Lancet” and largely overlooked in the Western media focused on perhaps the largest example of mass poisoning in history. It is estimated that as many as 77 million people in impoverished Bangladesh (directly to the east of India) are being exposed to high and toxic levels of arsenic.  Arsenic poisoning is rampant in the country and an Internet search of Bangladeshis shows photos of poor people with scabs all over their hands and bodies.  Unfortunately, this is not the worst outcome as the study indicated that as many as 1 in 5 deaths in Bangladesh are attributed to arsenic poisoning.  Even the World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history”.

The arsenic problem in Bangladesh has been known for many years.   Until recently the population largely drank surface water and water from the Ganges River that was dirty and contaminated with bacteria which caused cholera among other things.  In an effort to “improve” the quality of water UNICEF, the World Bank and other organizations funded a massive drive to install “Tube-wells”. These low cost wells went into deeper.  Little did they know that solving one problem was creating an even bigger one – Arsenic.  These wells equipped with hand-pumps brought “much purer” water up from the sands and sediments of the Ganges River.  It is estimated that 3 million such tube-wells have been drilled providing drinking water to 95% of the population.  But what should have been a happy ending is far from it.  The water from the Ganges River sediment is loaded with arsenic.  In fact now it is found that more than one million have been drinking water with arsenic over 100 times great that the World Health Organization limit. To make matters worse, no one bothered to test for arsenic until a few years ago.  The early symptoms are ulcers, and skin eruptions.  The cancers take longer to emerge and arsenic is a cumulative poison.   So there is a ticking time bomb in Bangladesh with poor outlooks for millions.

The race is on to get clean water to the people of Bangladesh.  Of the solutions available, water-distillation is extremely effective and reliable.  Pure & Secure has provided equipment to the United Nations and the State Department in Bangladesh.  But more needs to be done.

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