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22 Jun 2024, Edition - 3266, Saturday

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1.47 crore Indians at high risk of cancer, due to arsenic contaminated water



In India, around 80% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population use ground water for domestic purposes.

Water quality issues like arsenic, salinity, nitrate, iron, flouride and heavy metals in water due to geogenic and anthropogenic reasons have been reported from various parts of the country.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic (As) is an odourless and tasteless metalloid widely distributed in the earth’s crust. Elemental arsenic is a member of Group VA of the periodic table, with nitrogen, phosphorus, antimony and bismuth. It has an atomic number of 33 and an atomic mass of 74.91. Arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form.

How does arsenic get into drinking water?

Because it occurs naturally in the environment and as a by-product of some agricultural and industrial activities, it can enter drinking water through the ground or as runoff into surface water sources.

What happens to the arsenic that gets inside the human body?

Arsenic in drinking water is absorbed through the intestine into the bloodstream through which it reaches the various organs. The human body normally gets rid of smaller amounts of arsenic through urine. However, if there are large amounts of arsenic, the remaining arsenic accumulates inside the body and can lead to adverse health effects. However, the mechanisms underlying the adverse health effects by arsenic are not completely known. The level of accumulated arsenic can be known by investigating nail and hair samples.

High arsenic levels in rural India: Numbers and facts

1. High arsenic content in ground water affects the human, animal, soil and plant systems.

2. As many as 96 districts in 12 States have been affected by high arsenic contamination in ground water. 70.4 million people in 35 districts alone have been exposed to groundwater arsenic.

3. Over one lakh deaths and 2 to 3 lakhs of confirmed cases of illness have reportedly been caused by groundwater arsenic.

4. According to a report revealed by Ministry of drinking water and sanitation, 1.47 crore people in India face serious health hazards due to presence of arsenic in groundwater.

5. Statewise, West Bengal leads in Arsenic contamination with 9756 areas affected, followed by Assam with 4416 areas affected.

6. Not just India, but presence of Arsenic in water is a huge problem worldwide. It is now recognized that at least 140 million people in 50 countries have been drinking water containing arsenic at levels above the WHO provisional guideline value of 10 g/L

7. Other than Arsenic, other toxic chemicals like Fluoride, Chlorine are also present in tap water in high amounts.

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