An Eight-Year Study Report on Arsenic Contamination in Groundwater and Health Effects in Eruani Village, Bangladesh and an Approach for Its Mitigation
Ahamed, Sad, Sengupta, Mrinal Kumar, Mukherjee, Subhas Chandra, Pati, Shyamapada, Mukherjee, Amitava, Rahman, Mohammad Mahmudur, Hossain, M. Amir, Das, Bhaskar, Nayak, Bishwajit, Pal, Arup, Zafar, Abu, Kabir, Saiful, Banu, Selina Akhter, Morshed, Salim, Islam, Tanzima, Rahman, M. Mahmuder, Quamruzzaman, Quazi, Chakraborti, Dipankar, Journal of Health Population and Nutrition
Our arsenic-related research over the last 19 years has established that the significant portions of the Ganga-Meghna-Brahamaputra (GMB) Plain in India and Bangladesh encompassing an area of 569,749 sq km with a population of over 500 million are at risk (1). Based upon the findings, we anticipate arsenic contamination in groundwater on the floodplain areas of the rivers originating from the Himalayan and the Tibetan plateau. We first identified arsenic contamination in groundwater in the bordering areas of Bangladesh with West Bengal in 1992 (2). Analyzing around 52,000 water samples for arsenic from all 64 districts of Bangladesh, we found that, in 50 of the 64 districts, groundwater contained arsenic >50 µg/L, and more than 30 million people could be drinking water containing arsenic >50 µg/L (1).
Since 1997, the Governments of West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh, the World Bank, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), and other national and international aid agencies, launched a two-phase programme to curb the arsenic crisis. The first phase involved the screening of contaminated tubewells and the identification of safe ones in the arsenic-affected regions following the 50-µg/L standard. The second phase was to ensure supply of arsenic-safe drinking-water in the affected areas. Despite these laudable efforts and the few hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on arsenic mitigation, we came across many severely-affected villages in the GMB Plain, where the plight of villagers continues unabated.
We present here the on-the-ground realities of the arsenic contamination problem in Eruani village of Comilla district, Bangladesh. The selection was purposive. Results of analysis of water samples, analysis of biological samples, probabilistic estimates of the future-affected population, and clinical examinations of arsenic-related symptoms, including dermatology, neuropathy, and obstetric outcomes, among the villagers as revealed in our surveys in the Eruani village during 1997-2005 are presented here to show the dismal situation of many arsenic-affected villages in the GMB Plain. The probable solutions to curb this problem are also presented.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Background of the study
We first surveyed Eruani village on 30 December 1997 with our medical team and analyzed 110 tubewell-water samples from the village. All the samples contained arsenic >50 µg/L. We also identified 40 patients with arsenical skin lesions, screening 200 people.
On 13 February 2000, we collected 140 water samples. All the samples had arsenic concentration above the WHO-recommended value of 10 µg/L and 137 (97%) >50 µg/L.
We analyzed 164 nail samples from the villagers with or without arsenical skin lesions during November 2003. Results of our analysis clearly showed (mean value=5,779 µg/kg) that the body burden of arsenic was quite high (98.8% samples had arsenic above the normal level), although about 50% of the subjects had no arsenical skin lesions.
During February 2004, our medical team screened 700 villagers, and 210 (30%) of them were identified with arsenical skin lesions. Of 97 water samples collected for analysis, arsenic concentration of >10 µg/L was found in 94 (96.9%) samples, while 92 (94.8%) samples had arsenic >50 µg/L (Bangladesh standard value). All 200 urine samples collected from the villagers contained arsenic above the normal level, ranging from 5 to 40 µg/1.5 L/day (3). We collected 122 nail samples from the villagers who had arsenical skin lesions; 99% of the samples had more than the above normal level ranging from 430 to 1,080 µg/kg (4).
After February 2004, the Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH) and School of Environmental Studies of Jadavpur University decided to conduct a detailed survey on the situation of arsenic contamination and the suffering of the people in Eruani village. …