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Arsenic Poisoning – Pre Facts

Context: A recent study in Bihar has found Arsenic contamination not only in groundwater but in the food chain as well.....

Context: A recent study in Bihar has found Arsenic contamination not only in groundwater but in the food chain as well.

What is Arsenic?

  • It is an odourless and tasteless metalloid widely distributed in the earth’s crust.
  • It is naturally present at high levels in the earth crust and groundwater of a number of countries. It is highly toxic in its inorganic form.

Arsenic Poisoning

  • It can enter the human body through drinking water and consuming food contaminated with arsenic.
  • Arsenicosis is the medical word for arsenic poisoning, which occurs due to accumulation of large amounts of arsenic in the body.
  • It leads to adverse health effects through inhibition of essential enzymes, which ultimately leads to death from multi-system organ failure.
  • Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • Active exposure during in utero and early childhood has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults.

Arsenic and human health

  • Arsenic in excessive drinking-water exposure causes widespread health effects, including cancer risks in skin, lungs, bladder, and kidneys.
  • Long-term exposure links arsenic in drinking-water to skin changes, hyperkeratosis, pigmentation changes, and cancer risks.
  • Soluble inorganic arsenic is acutely toxic, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiovascular, nervous system issues, and death.
  • Survivors may experience bone marrow depression, haemolysis, hepatomegaly, melanosis, polyneuropathy, and encephalopathy.
  • Studies associate even concentrations below 50 µg/L with lung, bladder cancer, and arsenic-related skin lesions.

Possible solutions

Some of the management options include

  • Uses of surface water sources
  • Exploring and harnessing alternate arsenic-free aquifer
  • Removal of arsenic from groundwater using arsenic treatment plants/filters
  • Adopting rainwater harvesting/ watershed management practices.

Way forward:

  • Close monitoring of both irrigation and drinking water quality is essential.
  • It is vital to make its mitigation a success by including the public in planning and maintenance, as well as providing the necessary push to states.
  • Corrective treatments encompass removing arsenic from extracted groundwater, exploring alternative aquifers, reducing aquifer levels, diluting pollutants through artificial recharge, blending with clean water, and exploring other options.

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