Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Technical and Social Evaluation of Arsenic Mitigation in Rural Bangladesh

Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Technical and Social Evaluation of Arsenic Mitigation in Rural Bangladesh

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In the last two decades, introduction of shallow tubewells has given over access to clean and hygienic drinking-water to 95% of the rural households of Bangladesh. However, the contamination of shallow aquifers with arsenic is a serious threat to public health in Bangladesh. A national survey in 1998 and 1999 estimated that the water in about 27% of all tubewells (n=3,534) exceeded the arsenic limit of 50 µg/L set by the Government of Bangladesh, and this figure rises to 46% if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of maximum permissible level of arsenic in drinkingwater (10 µg/L) was used (1). Results of a blanketscreening programme in 270 most affected subdistricts (upazilas), in which 4.73 million tubewells in 54,041 villages were tested for arsenic, showed that 29.1% of the tubewells had arsenic in excess of the Bangladesh standard (2). The detailed map and upazila-wise summary of the screening results could be found in the website of the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Projects (BAMWSP) (2). While the figures are unconfirmed, an estimated 35-40 million of 130 million people are potentially at risk of arsenic poisoning from drinkingwater source in Bangladesh (3-4).

A large number of people affected with arsenicrelated diseases, ranging from melanosis to skin cancer and gangrene, have been identified in rural Bangladesh. A recent report mentioned that longterm exposure to present arsenic concentrations will result in nearly 125,000 cases of skin cancer and about 3,000 fatalities each year (5). The lifetime excess risk (per 100,000 people) of mortality from liver, bladder and lung cancers attributed to arsenic in drinking-water were 198.3 for males and 53.8 for females, with an average across-gender lifetime risk of 126.1 (6). It is, thus, urgently needed to find the effective, acceptable and sustainable solutions to address the problem of arsenic contamination.

Arsenic-mitigation efforts have so far been concentrated on identification of contaminated and safe tubewells, creation of public awareness, and identification of cases of arsenic-related health problem. The Government of Bangladesh is currently promoting alternative water options. The National Policy for Arsenic Mitigation and Implementation Plan for Arsenic Mitigation in Bangladesh have promoted the use of dugwells, pond-sand filters, rainwater harvesting, and deep tubewells as alternative arsenic-free water-supply options (7). Piped water schemes, using either groundwater or surface water, have also been promoted.

In addition, many aid organizations have implemented household-based arsenic-removal filters. Several household arsenic-removal technologies have been tried out in rural Bangladesh. Among them, many household technologies have some serious drawbacks, including troublesome maintenance, high costs, and insufficient treatment rate. Sono arsenic filter (SAF) is one of the promising technologies in Bangladesh, which has received a lot of attention by users, scientists, and researchers (8). Recently, the SAF received the highest award from the National Academy of Engineering- Grainger challenge prize for sustainability (9). The SAF is a modified form of the popular 3-kolshi/ pithcer arsenic filter. The filter consists of two buckets. A 4-5-cm thick layer of composite iron (mixture of metal iron and iron hydroxides) covered by sand-layers is set at the middle of the upper bucket, where arsenic is adsorbed and co-precipitated. The lower bucket contains sand and a charcoal-layer to remove the iron hydroxides, and organic matter is released form the upper bucket. The final filtered water is collected at the bottom of the lower bucket. The details of the chemistry and arsenic-removal mechanism of the SAF have been reported elsewhere (8). Cost of the actual filter was around US$ 45-50 (US$ 1 is about Tk 70) (8). A local non-governmental organization (NGO)- ADAMS-in Khulna, Bangladesh, installed over 1,000 SAFs in Mollahat subdistrict of Bagerhat district of Bangladesh in 2004 with external aid. …

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