The Arsenic Hit Ganga Belt

  • Over thousands of years, arsenic has been washing down from the Himalayas with the Ganga water as sediment. In the plains, this arsenic has been leaching into the ground. It remained within permissible limits and did no harm till around the 1970s when, concerned over deaths in the Gangetic belt caused mainly by the unhygienic pattern of water consumption and poor sanitary conditions, the government and Unicef sank millions of tubewells.
  • However, over the years, the indiscriminate pumping out of groundwater, not only for domestic use but also for farming, saw the water table sink. This in turn increased arsenic in the ground water.Result is that today, the locals get exposed to high levels of arsenic.

Why pumping out of water causes increased arsenic ?

  • In places where there is large-scale withdrawal, groundwater gets aerated and the arsenic compounds present in the water get degraded by the oxygen.

Is this water colored?

  • Arsenic has an affinity for iron, so arsenic- laced water will usually have a yellow tinge due to the presence of iron.

Risk areas:

  • The source of arsenic is the Himalayas and arsenic will be found in all those areas, in varying quantities, where Himalaya-fed rivers flow. There are about 500 million people at risk across UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Gangetic belt where this problem has been detected is extremely fertile and large-scale agriculture takes place here. The primary crop being grown here is rice and that is water intensive. While there are no reports yet, it only takes logic to deduce that arsenic is also present in crops grown here. This could be Asia’s biggest food disaster. This is what the experts have cliamed recently.

How Does Arsenic Get Into Water

  • Some arsenic occurs naturally in groundwater, within limits not harmful
  • Arsenic has been washing away from the Himalayas as sediment with Ganga water, sinking in and mixing with groundwater
  • Post-1970, indiscriminate drawing of groundwater resulted in water table sinking and increasing arsenic content

The Slow Killer

  • Arsenic is a slow poison and takes years before first signs of poisoning show . By then it may be too late to provide medical assistance

Symptoms

  • Melanosis (pigmentation) and keratosis (rough, dry skin lesions) . Long exposure results in melanosis diffuses in palms, soles and later over whole body Leucomelanosis (pigmentation and depigmentation) usually appears in later stages.
  • Large nodules that develop later signal onset of cancer. Skin ulcer is a late feature that may turn into malignancya Arsenic may cause lung, bladder & kidney cancers & internal tumors Causes prickly sensation on exposure to sunlight Burning sensation in eyes noticed in some cases Exposure during pregnancy can lead to spontaneous abortion, premature delivery, neonatal and perinatal mortality. (with inputs from Times of India)

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