Arsenic in water poisoned 77 million Bangladeshis: report

DHAKA, June 20, 2010 (AFP) – Up to 77 million Bangladeshis have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic from contaminated drinking water, and even low-level exposure to the poison is not risk-free, The Lancet medical journal reported. Over the past decade, more than 20 percent of deaths recorded in a study that monitored nearly 12,000 people in the Araihazar district of the capital Dhaka appear to have been caused by arsenic-tainted well water.

By some estimates, between 35 and 77 million people in Bangladesh have been chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated water as a result of a catastrophically misguided campaign in the 1970s.

Millions of tube wells were drilled in the aim of providing villagers with clean, germ-free water. Many wells were inadvertently dug into shallow layers of soil that were heavily laced with naturally occurring arsenic.

The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) has called Bangladesh’s arsenic crisis “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”

Several previous investigations highlighted the health risks of contaminated groundwater, but they failed to explain how much of the tainted water a person may have drunk and what level of contamination was enough to cause sickness