Digest 06/2014: Arsenic in the news

newsdigestPlease have a read through this news digest of recent online publications on arsenic.

Risk substitution with well switching

Millions of households throughout Bangladesh have been exposed to high levels of arsenic (As) causing various deadly diseases by drinking groundwater from shallow tubewells for the past 30 years. Well testing has been the most effective form of mitigation because it has induced massive switching from tubewells that are high (>50 µg/L) in As to neighboring wells that are low in As. A recent study has shown, however, that shallow low-As wells are more likely to be contaminated with the fecal indicator E. coli than shallow high-As wells, suggesting that well switching might lead to an increase in diarrheal disease.

Faded tube-well testing efforts

As these examples suggest, past achievements can be lost if arsenic mitigation efforts are not sustained. Markings on wells from previous testing campaigns have now worn off and the motivation for promoting arsenic-safe water has waned. The top-down blanket testing approach of the past left no infrastructure in place for monitoring existing wells or for testing new wells.

Funds dry up for arsenic mitigation research

In 2004, the Bangladeshi Government, with support from the World Bank and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, adopted a national arsenic mitigation strategy. A US$30 million undertaking that included screening and identification of the country’s 12 million tube wells and the introduction of alternative arsenic-safe water options. “At that time, a lot of money was available for mitigation”, adds Rahman. But with so little success after the project’s first year, donors began to lose interest and progress stalled. Now, he says, no one wants to support the kind of operational research needed to find out what works.

Health care needs to adjust to tackle chronic non-communicable diseases

Many report on remarkable success in healthcare in Bangladesh, which has included significant improvements in the survival of under-fives, immunisation coverage and tuberculosis control. However, “the Bangladesh health system has been shaped to address the first generation of poverty-linked infections, and nutritional and maternity-related diseases,” the Lancet said. “But given the epidemiological transition, the health system will have to be adjusted to grapple with chronic non-communicable diseases. For the fragile and evolving Bangladesh health system, the global attention on universal health coverage has not been translated into substantive action.”

Arsenic affecting brain development in children

When absorbed through drinking water, this chemical has been linked to reduced cognitive function in schoolchildren. Follow-up studies from the Morinaga milk poisoning incident have linked it to neurological disease in adulthood.

Cambodia’s arsenic problem is falling between the cracks because it lacks funding

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians are at risk of inadvertent, mass poisoning in the same manner, experts say. Over the past 15 years, extremely high levels of arsenic have been detected in food and well water in 10 provinces, with the highest concentrations found in Kandal, Kampong Cham and Prey Veng.

Plans to pull arsenic from drinking water and convert to bricks 

A team at the University of California, Berkeley, is planning a trial to filter 10,000 litres of water every day in rural sites across India. To get rid of the hazardous sludge, the group is partnering with local companies to stabilise the hazardous waste in concrete.



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