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Technological and Policy Dimensions of the
Arsenic Contamination in the Asian Region

The pollution of drinking water by arsenic has become a serious challenge for people living in various parts of Asia as well as Latin America. The problem, by far, is much more severe in South Asia and China. The estimated number of people drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater are of astonishing proportions; conservative estimates put the total number at greater than 50 million in the Asian region alone.
Tens of thousand cases of arsenicosis patients have been reported in South Asia. Similarly, several thousand patients have been identified in the Shanxi Province of China. Our awareness of this crisis has grown dramatically during the late 1990's - particularly in the context of the presence of arsenic in groundwater extracted from the alluvial aquifer underlying India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Naturally-occurring and human-induced arsenic pollution in drinking water has since been discovered in many parts of the world. We now regard it as a problem of truly global dimensions.

-- Arsenic Session at the 3rd World Water Forum
(16 March 2003)
Please click here for the formal session report and press coverage

More about the crisis...

>What is arsenic?
>Why is arsenic bad for health?

What is Arsenic?
Arsenic a metalloid element is a natural part of the earth's crust in some parts of the world and may be found in water that has flowed through arsenic-rich rocks. Arsenic is also emitted into the atmosphere by high-temperature processes such as coal-fired power generation plants, burning vegetation and volcanic action. High concentrations of arsenic in drinking-water are found in various parts of the world including Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, China, Hungary, India, Iran, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, USA, and Viet Nam. A variety of instrumental techniques available for the determination of arsenic in water and air.

Source: WHO Environmental Health Criteria, No. 224: Arsenic

Why is Arsenic Bad for Health?
Arsenic dissolved in water is acutely toxic and can lead to a number of health problems. Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking-water causes increased risks of cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney. It also leads to other skin-related problems such hyperkeratosis and changes in pigmentation. Consumption of arsenic also leads to disturbance of the cardiovascular and nervous system functions and eventually leads to death. These health effects sometimes collectively referred to as arsenicosis have been demonstrated in many studies. Increased risks of lung and bladder cancer and of arsenic-associated skin lesions have been reported for consuming drinking-water with arsenic concentrations equal to or greater than 50 parts per billion (or microgram per liter)
Source: WHO Environmental Health Criteria, No. 224: Arsenic

Last Update: 20 March 2003