Health Risks of Arsenic-Contaminated Water

Since the 1970s, tens of millions of people in Bangladesh have been at risk of early death from groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic. In an article published in the Lancet in 2010, US researchers found that more than 20 percent of deaths in a 10-year study of 12,000 Bangladeshis were caused by arsenic exposure from contaminated drinking water.

Arsenic occurs naturally in the rock and soil of Bangladesh, seeping into the groundwater and entering the human body by ingestion, absorption, and inhalation. Crops grown with arsenic-contaminated water may accumulate the toxin, which is concentrated in the soil.

Inorganic arsenic has been declared a known human carcinogen by the International Agency of Research on Cancer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health & Human Services.

In Bangladesh 90 % of the nation’s population uses groundwater as their primary source of fresh water, and there are over 77 million villagers in rural Bangladesh whose only water source is contaminated by the toxin. As the population has grown throughout the decades, the problem is getting worse, and attempts to mitigate the disaster have been unsuccessful.

The effects of arsenic poisoning can be reduced if the quality of drinking water is improved. Providing access to arsenic-free water or reducing the arsenic level in existing sources of drinking water is essential for public health and overall development.