Status of groundwater arsenic contamination in Bangladesh: a 14-year study report

Type Journal Article - water research
Title Status of groundwater arsenic contamination in Bangladesh: a 14-year study report
Volume 44
Issue 19
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
Page numbers 5789-5802
Since 1996, 52,202 water samples from hand tubewells were analyzed for arsenic (As) by flow injection hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry (FI-HG-AAS) from all 64 districts of Bangladesh; 27.2% and 42.1% of the tubewells had As above 50 and 10 µg/l, respectively; 7.5% contained As above 300 µg/l, the concentration predicting overt arsenical skin lesions. The groundwater of 50 districts contained As above the Bangladesh standard for As in drinking water (50 µg/l), and 59 districts had As above the WHO guideline value (10 µg/l). Water analyses from the four principal geomorphological regions of Bangladesh showed that hand tubewells of the Tableland and Hill tract regions are primarily free from As contamination, while the Flood plain and Deltaic region, including the Coastal region, are highly As-contaminated. Arsenic concentration was usually observed to decrease with increasing tubewell depth; however, 16% of tubewells deeper than 100 m, which is often considered to be a safe depth, contained As above 50 µg/l. In tubewells deeper than 350 m, As >50 µg/l has not been found. The estimated number of tubewells in 50 As-affected districts was 4.3 million. Based on the analysis of 52,202 hand tubewell water samples during the last 14 years, we estimate that around 36 million and 22 million people could be drinking As-contaminated water above 10 and 50 µg/l, respectively. However for roughly the last 5 years due to mitigation efforts by the government, non-governmental organizations and international aid agencies, many individuals living in these contaminated areas have been drinking As-safe water. From 50 contaminated districts with tubewell As concentrations >50 µg/l, 52% of sampled hand tubewells contained As <10 µg/l, and these tubewells could be utilized immediately as a source of safe water in these affected regions provided regular monitoring for temporal variation in As concentration. Even in the As-affected Flood plain, sampled tubewells from 22 thanas in 4 districts were almost entirely As-safe. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, India the crisis is not having too little water to satisfy our needs, it is the challenge of managing available water resources. The development of community-specific safe water sources coupled with local participation and education are required to slow the current effects of widespread As poisoning and to prevent this disaster from continuing to plague individuals in the future.

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