Arsenic in groundwater of Bangladesh: a case of a village
- Arsenic in groundwater of Bangladesh: a case of a village
A member of the Arsenic Mitigation Group (AMGRU) of Rajshahi University, a student of final year B. Sc., has visited his village on the 2nd week of December 2002. As a member of the group since last few months, he has become aware of the arsenic problem and so this visit to his own village became a very different one. What he observed and reported to us about his own village this time is given below:
His village is Izarapara and the neighboring village is Gibindanagar in the Upazila of Sarishabari of District Jamalpur of the central Bangladesh. The district is widely affected by arsenic contamination. These two villages are classed as large village with 3000 to 4000 inhabitants. The student examined the members of 10 families and most are identified as affected with Arsenic poisoning � with spots, warts and ulcerations. One member had ulcer in limb, was amputated and ultimately died.
The villagers of Izarapara used to drink water from six (6) hand-tubewells, which were tested by the local Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) sometimes in 2001 and found them highly contaminated with arsenic. They labeled and sealed some of these tube wells, the villagers resunk four of these contaminated tube wells to greater depth; DPHE planned to sink one to 300 feet deep but only able to sink up to 265 feet because of hard rock below. All these newly sunk tubewells when tested again for arsenic by the DPHE were still found to contain higher levels of arsenic than the recommended level. The DPHE asked not to drink water from the tube wells and left.
Without any alternative source, the villagers are using the contaminated water till today. They have no filter or any other way to get arsenic-free drinking water! The villagers also narrated how a Japanese team visited their village, examined water and the affected people and also asked them not to drink water from those tubewells. Some villagers also reported that they were promised help but nothing arrived. The student especially mentioned that Mr. Mojnu Miah son of Nilu Khan and Mr. Ohab Ali son of Hosen Ali Khan both of Izarapara have arsenic-poisoning symptoms all over their body, and the uncle of Mojnu Miah died after amputation of limbs in 1999. The villagers reported to have these symptoms for several years not knowing that these are due to arsenic in drinking water. Almost all members of these families above 18 to 20 years age are bearing symptoms and are suffering.
The student also reported that the villagers use a test for arsenic contaminated water by mixing paste of guava leaves with the water sample to be tested. Arsenic contaminated water when mixed with guava leaf paste, changes color quickly but arsenic-free water does not. This is due actually to the reaction of phenol in leaves and iron in water.
The student reported that the villagers are very depressed and angry due to the addition of this unexpected disaster and suffering to already burdened life of the poor! We plan to help the villagers to get filters for removing arsenic. Other sources of arsenic-free water are being arranged. The affected people will have treatment and food-therapy to alleviate arsenic toxicity. We plan to visit the village this week to form an Arsenic Mitigation Group in the locality.
This is a picture, I am afraid, to be found in numerous villages of Bangladesh.
The name of the student, a member of Arsenic Mitigation Group, is M. Moinul Kabir Masud, a 4th year student of the University.
Dr M I Zuberi
University of Rajshahi
- In connection with the mail of Dr M I Zuberi, I have two suggestions:
1. It would be useful to know the exact concentrations of Arsenic, which have resulted serious health hazard and even death.
2. The practice of local people to test for arsenic with leaves of the guava tree may not be appropriate. The idea should not be propagated prior to scientific testing.
It *is* however a practical, readily available method to find dissolved iron. I also used it, while sinking tubewells for fish seed farms in Bangladesh, to estimate the amount of dissolved iron. I found that the color of water changes to blackish only when iron is present at more than 1.0 mg/liter concentrations. I believe that this is due to a reaction of iron with the tannic acid present in the leaves.
Toxic arsenic levels are starting from 0.05 mg/l concentrations [or even lower - moderator]. Although arsenic and iron sometimes occur together, it is not at all sure that toxic levels of dissolved arsenic can be detected by use of guava leaves.
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