140 Million Facing “Arsenic Time Bomb”

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism submits:

The BBC, reporting on a meeting at the Royal Geographical Society, says that 140 million people in developing countries are drinking water with such high concentrations of arsenic as to constitute poisoning. Experts estimate that one out of ten people living in these areas will die of aresenic-induced ailments, particularly cancer.

The problem resulted from the well-intentioned efforts of aid agencies to steer communities in poor areas away from using surface water, which is often badly contaminated by bacteria, towards well-digging, not realizing the well water could have high levels of arsenic.

From the BBC:

About 140 million people, mainly in developing countries, are being poisoned by arsenic in their drinking water, researchers believe….Eating large amounts of rice grown in affected areas could also be a health risk, scientists said.

“It’s a global problem, present in 70 countries, probably more,” said Peter Ravenscroft, a research associate in geography with Cambridge University….

Arsenic consumption leads to higher rates of some cancers, including tumours of the lung, bladder and skin, and other lung conditions. Some of these effects show up decades after the first exposure.

“In the long term, one in every 10 people with high concentrations of arsenic in their water will die from it,” observed Allan Smith from the University of California at Berkeley.

“This is the highest known increase in mortality from any environmental exposure….

Once the threat has been identified, there are remedies, such as as digging deeper wells, purification, and identifying safe surface water supplies.

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