Cutting Edge > Topics > Geology and Human Health > Health Case Studies > Arsenic in Bangladesh

Arsenic in Bangladesh

Author: Kaitlyn Carr

This case study is part of a collection of pages developed by students in the 2012 introductory-level Geology and Human Health course in the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University. Learn more about this project.

There are an estimated 70 million people currently at risk for arsenic poisoning in the the Bangladesh area, resulting in a major health crisis and need for clean water. The effects of Arsenic poisoning are gruesome, and take effect after many years of drinking arsenic contaminated water.

INTRODUCTION

Through my studies I have taken a closer look at the devastating health effects of arsenic leaking into the ground water that millions depend upon. Water is an essential ingredient for every life form, without it there would be no possibility of life. When such a necessary element for survival is jeopardized for millions of people, it becomes a call to action for those capable of relief. The topic I have chosen will take a closer look on the health effects and hazards cause by natural the leaking of arsenic in to the groundwater of Bangladesh, and the possible ways to relieve these people.

arsenic source visual
PHOTO CREDIT:An Elemental Concern: Arsenic in Drinking Water. N.d. Circleofblue.org Web. 11 Dec 2012.

SOURCES OF ARSENIC

Arsenic is a mineral found in the earths crust, naturally occurring. It is a hard mineral used in conjunction with iron to make a stronger metal. Arsenic can be transported in a couple ways, through the air, when ground up into smaller particles, and through water when dissolved underground into water systems. Arsenic can be melted, but it requires an extremely high melting point. Its most legitimate way of transportation is through underground water sources when dissolved into the water, and then transported to above ground systems. Areas in China, the western United States, and India have wide spread areas of underground Arsenic, that threaten the drinking water of millions.

water
PHOTO CREDIT: Arsenic contaminated tube well. Circleofblue.org

BIO AVAILABILITY OF ARSENIC

The health crisis in Bangladesh is caused by dissolving Arsenic into underground water systems that thousands depend on. Arsenic is naturally a very brittle material, so its break down is a simple process. As the Arsenic breaks down into smaller particles, it resolves into underground water systems. Those underground waters systems flow into shallow tube wells used by many. A shallow tube well is a pump well that uses suction to pull water from a shallow well in the ground. The water pulled to the surface from these wells are often contaminated with high levels of Arsenic, thus poisoning those who drink the water over long periods of time.

HEALTH EFFECTS

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning range from hardening of the skin, painful sores called lesions that can easily become infected, swollen limbs, and loss of feeling to the hands and feet. There are also a wide range of cancers linked to arsenic exposure. Lung cancer is the most common cause of death among people with arsenic poisoning. Though many of these effects do not appear immediately, those who have been exposed enough to see signs where unaware of their exposure until it was too late. depending on the levels of arsenic consumed and the amount of time at which they are consumed will determine the severity of the symptoms.

Depending on the levels and time periods of exposure the health effects worsen. The higher the concentration for a long period of time, will prove fatal in a much shorter time than that of a person exposed at lower levels for a shorter amount of time.


SOCIAL IMPACTS

The social effects of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh differ a bit from other parts of the world. In Bangladesh, a woman is judged upon her natural beauty, women effected by arsenic poisoning are less likely to get married, or if the effects set in after marriage, more likely to experience divorce. Women with Arsenic poisoning are often shunned from society, causing homelessness and poverty for the woman and her children. There is such a wide range of people who are effected by long term exposure to arsenic, when such exposure could have been simply avoided through a factual educational out-reach to those at risk. Filtration education, as well as treatment options must be made readily available to those who need the support.

MITIGATION

The mitigation of arsenic poisoning is not at complicated as it would seem. Why so many affected then? Most arsenic cases are in result of the lack of necessary education available to those in secluded areas. One way the people of Bangladesh warn of a pump that has fallen victim to arsenic is by painting the top of the pump red, an indication of contamination and as warning to not use that pump any further. Another way to avoid the consumption of arsenic through drinking water is a system of filters, that the contaminated water is put through, and arsenic is removed by. Though these filters are simple in construct, they are not readily available to all walks of life, especially those in very secluded areas.

FURTHER READINGS

Atkins P, Hassan M and Dunn C. Environmental irony: summoning death in Bangladesh. ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING A. Volume: 39 Issue: 11 Pages: 2699-2714

Atkins P, Hassan M and Dunn C. Toxic torts: arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and the legal geographies of responsibility. TRANSACTIONS OF THE INSTITUTE OF BRITISH GEOGRAPHERS. Volume: 31 Issue: 3 Pages: 272-285

RELATED LINKS

Want the detailed process of arsenic removal? Here is a great site from the Seimens corporation showing ways to remove arsenic from drinking water

arsenic removal from drinking water

An interesting article and graph on amounts of arsenic in Bangladesh shallow tube wells, from the NCBI(National Center for Biotechnology Information) government site

Arsenic in Bangladesh shallow tube wells

Click here for another informative article on the health risks of arsenic exposure

environmental health perspectives.

ATTRIBUTIONS

A study of the ground water contamination in Bangladesh in the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience Blog

Petly, Dave. "Exploring Ground Water Contamination in Bandladesh." Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience Blog. wordpress, n. d. Web. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

http://ihrrblog.org/2012/03/09/exploring-groundwater-arsenic-contamination-in-bangladesh/

Detailed information on arsenic in our drinking water provided by the EPA

Environmental Protection Agency. Arsenic in Drinking Water. United States : , 2012. Web.

http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/arsenic/index.cfm

Water supply options from Harvard University

http://users.physics.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/conferences/Feroze_Ahmed/Sec_3.htm



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