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Unformatted text preview: Contamination of drinking-water by arsenic in Bangladesh: a public health emergency Allan H. Smith, 1 Elena O. Lingas, 2 & Mahfuzar Rahman 3 The contamination of groundwater by arsenic in Bangladesh is the largest poisoning of a population in history, with millions of people exposed. This paper describes the history of the discovery of arsenic in drinking-water in Bangladesh and recommends intervention strategies. Tube-wells were installed to provide pure water to prevent morbidity and mortality from gastrointestinal disease. The water from the millions of tube-wells that were installed was not tested for arsenic contamination. Studies in other countries where the population has had long-term exposure to arsenic in groundwater indicate that 1 in 10 people who drink water containing 500 m g of arsenic per litre may ultimately die from cancers caused by arsenic, including lung, bladder and skin cancers. The rapid allocation of funding and prompt expansion of current interventions to address this contamination should be facilitated. The fundamental intervention is the identification and provision of arsenic-free drinking water. Arsenic is rapidly excreted in urine, and for early or mild cases, no specific treatment is required. Community education and participation are essential to ensure that interventions are successful; these should be coupled with follow-up monitoring to confirm that exposure has ended. Taken together with the discovery of arsenic in groundwater in other countries, the experience in Bangladesh shows that groundwater sources throughout the world that are used for drinking-water should be tested for arsenic. Keywords: Bangladesh; arsenic poisoning, prevention and control; arsenic poisoning, therapy; water pollution, chemical, prevention and control; water treatment; environmental monitoring. Voir page 1100 le re sume en franc ais. En la pa gina 1101 figura un resumen en espan ol. Introduction Bangladesh is grappling with the largest mass poisoning of a population in history because ground- water used for drinking has been contaminated with naturally occurring inorganic arsenic. It is estimated that of the 125 million inhabitants of Bangladesh between 35 million and 77 million are at risk of drinking contaminated water ( 1, 2 ). The scale of this environmental disaster is greater than any seen before; it is beyond the accidents at Bhopal, India, in 1984, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. This paper suggests guidelines for responding when a popula- tion is exposed to arsenic, and it is based on information from several visits to Bangladesh made by Allan H. Smith as a consultant for the World Health Organization between 1997 and 1998 ( 35 )....
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This note was uploaded on 05/02/2008 for the course ENVL 111 taught by Professor Unknown during the Fall '07 term at University of Washington.
- Fall '07