Alleviating arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh

It comes as no surprise to people these days that Bangladesh is having problems with its major cities’ municipal water supplies. If one were to say in conversation that the water supply of New York city or Chicago was found to be contaminated, people would immediately perk up and most likely exclaim how terrible that was, and indeed it would be. However, when we hear reports of Bangladesh, or any place on the Indian subcontinent for that matter, having water pollution concerns, people barely even flinch. One or two people may utter the obligatory “that’s terrible” remark but in general its unsurprising to the masses because it’s the same stuff that they have heard for decades. However, what is surprising is the source of the concern. We are used to reports about river and reservoir pollution causing sickness and suffering and indeed Bangladesh’s poor wastewater management infrastructure has caused widespread surface pollution. Ironically however, it is the solution to this longstanding problem that is causing the recent concerns.


From the 1950s to the 1970s, water drawn from local rivers and reservoirs caused disease and death of tens of thousands of people per year through, cholera, diphtheria and other waterborne illnesses. The solution was to dig tube wells that would draw groundwater too deep to be influenced by bacteria and other organisms which plague the surface waters. Initially the plan worked well as the wells flowed forth crystal clear water which saw infant mortality rates cut by 50% in just a few short years. Unfortunately, the deep tube wells had tapped into an area of mineral rock flecked with arsenic, which had leached into the groundwater. This went unnoticed for years because concentrations were not high enough to cause acute arsenic poisoning, with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain, which would have indicated further testing was necessary. Instead symptoms of chronic disease through prolonged exposure to sub lethal levels began to arise over the years and it is now thought that chronic arsenic poisoning is responsible for around 40,000 - 50,000 deaths per year.


Early screening protocols for chronic arsenic poisoning are now in place, such as checking for skin thickening, abnormal skin pigmentation and localized lesions but these screenings and subsequent treatments are costly. A far more effective solution is for the government of Bangladesh to address the issue at its root cause. Activated Filter Media has been shown to safely and effectively remove arsenic from water. It can be easily retrofitted into existing water supplies simply by replacing the existing filter substrate, commonly sand, with AFM. In this instance addressing the cause would be astronomically less costly than the cure.

More related: Removal of iron manganese & arsenic from ground water


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