Even low arsenic exposure a risk in Bangladesh water

More than a fifth of deaths in a district of Bangladesh were caused by the country's notorious problem of arsenic-tainted well water, and even relatively low exposure to the poison was not risk-free, The Lancet reported on Saturday.

By some estimates, between 35 and 77 million people have been chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated water as a result of a catastrophically misguided campaign in the 1970s.

Millions of tube wells were drilled in the aim of providing villagers with clean, germ-free water. By tragic irony, many wells were dug into shallow layers that were heavily laced with naturally-occurring arsenic.

Several investigations have highlighted the health danger from this water, but they have been questioned on methodological grounds.

These probes provided an overall snapshot but not an individual one. In other words, they failed to explain how much of the tainted water a person may have drunk and what level of contamination was enough to cause sickness.

Seeking to find out, doctors assessed 11,746 people aged 18 to 75 in Araihazar in the Dhaka administrative division.

The physicians checked the volunteers' overall health and took blood and urine samples every two years. They also took samples of the local well water to monitor for arsenic levels.

After six years, 407 deaths had occurred from all causes, 21 percent of which could be attributed to arsenic concentrations above the UN's recommended threshold. Of deaths linked to chronic disease, 24 percent were associated with exposure to the poison at such levels.

The death rate rose in line with the exposure.

Compared to those exposed to the lowest arsenic levels (less than 10 microgrammes of arsenic per litre of water), those with levels of 10-50 microgrammes had a 34 percent higher risk of death, and those with the highest level (between 150 and 864 microgrammes) a 64-percent higher risk.

But even exposure at relatively lower levels carried a risk, a finding that is important for other countries - there are more than 70 of them around the world, including the United States, India and Mexico - that face a serious arsenic problem.

In the study, 23 percent of the volunteers were exposed to water with up to 10 microgrammes of arsenic per litre, which is the UN recommended maximum.

Twenty-one percent were exposed to concentrations of between 10 and 50 microgrammes, with 50 microgrammes the current Bangladesh standard.

Thirty-one percent were exposed to between 50 and 150 microgrammes; and 25 percent to between 150 microgrammes and the maximum tested level, of 864 microgrammes.

Given the long-term effect of arsenic, taking a temporary break from exposure was no solution, for the risk of death remained the same, the researchers found.

Chronic exposure to arsenic is linked with cancers of the liver, kidney, bladders and skin, as well as heart disease.

The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) has called Bangladesh's arsenic crisis "the largest mass poisoning of a population in history."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

    Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

    £14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent