Arsenic Scare Spreads to Ballia
New Delhi: Laboratory studies sponsored by the Centre for
Science and Environment have confirmed that arsenic contamination
has reached Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, moving westwards from its traditional
region of concentration in Bengal.
The CSE announced the findings at a public meeting attended by director
Sunita Narain, Dipankar Chakraborti, director of the School of Environmental
Studies, Jadavpur University, Binod Khaitan, professor, department
of dermatology and venereology at AIIMS, and Paul Deverill, project
officer, child environment, Unicef.
The studies, in which samples of hand-pump water, hair and nail of
people living in villages were analysed in laboratories, found levels
of arsenic higher than what is considered safe. Khaitan pointed out
that arsenic was not only a carcinogen, but also hampered the healing
While 80 to 250 per parts billion (ppb) concentration of arsenic has
been found to be the tolerable limit by toxicologists, the CSE study
has found up to 4,800 to 6,300 ppb of arsenic in the hair samples.
The Bureau of Indian Standards guideline for arsenic in drinking water
is 10 ppb. The analysis of hand-pump water in Ballia district showed
the levels at over 73 ppb.
The CSE director said there is a need for a special mission to deal
with arsenic and fluoride poisoning in the country.
"There is a health pandemic, but our system is fractured. Those who
look after health at the village level are not the ones who look at
water. No one looks at quality. There is a health and quality of water
link. For example, we have to link cleaning of arsenic to cleaning
our ponds, tanks and rivers," Narain said.
Officially, the Centre accepts arsenic contamination only in eight
districts of Bengal and Bhojpur district in Bihar.
Deverill said Unicef has found that Bengal is the most seriously affected
state, but arsenic with more than 50 ppb concentration has also been
found in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
In Bengal, Bihar and, lately, in Uttar Pradesh, a Unicef project has
recommended 100 per cent screening of public water sources, private
testing and marketing household filters.
Experts from Jadavpur University and Unicef have conducted extensive
arsenic tests in the Gangetic plains and found high levels of contamination
in many districts.
The available scientific literature suggests this is natural arsenic
which has travelled from the Himalayas and has seeped into the soil
of the plains. However, scientists are still unclear about how the
arsenic, naturally found in the soil, is released in the groundwater.
Tracing the manner in which arsenic contamination has spread in the
flood plains of South Asia from the 1970s to date covering Bangladesh,
Nepal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam, Chakraborti, who has done exhaustive
studies, said the problem was partly of nature while the green revolution
was partly to blame.
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