Arsenic pollution can happen in groundwater. Here we discuss the causes of arsenic pollution in groundwater, the effect of this pollution, and the solution to this dangerous problem.
Causes of arsenic pollution in groundwater
Both man-made and natural causes have been put forward for the arsenic contamination problems in Bangladesh. Some of these reasons, mostly man-made, are:
- Use of insecticides and pesticides
- Waste disposal
- Use of arsenic-treated wooden poles for power grids
- The excessive lifting of groundwater for irrigation purposes has gradually lowered the groundwater level, causing oxygen to move into the space created by the withdrawal of the water.
Oxygen causes changes in arsenic-containing rocks that are present underneath; as a result, inorganic arsenic is released into the water.
However, at an international conference in Dhaka in February 1998, it was agreed that the contamination was of a geological origin and not caused by man.
Effects of arsenic pollution
This is a problem because most of the areas in Bangladesh do not have access to a piped water supply from a central purifying unit, as do most cities in the world. Most of the rural areas depend on groundwater for domestic needs, and as arsenic has mostly been detected in the groundwater, the people of Bangladesh are deeply affected.
Arsenic contamination has become a big public health issue. It causes an illness called arsenicosis, the early manifestations of which are the appearance of dark and white patches on the skin. The skin hardens due to the accumulation of arsenic in the blood.
However, a person can exhibit any one of these symptoms as well as all of them. Arsenicosis develops over a period of 5 to 15 years, but always takes the form of a progressive and fatal disease. It can also lead to cancer of important organs, like the liver or the kidneys.
Resource skills Activity
Study the above map or an atlas map showing areas of arsenic contamination- for example, page 38 of Graphosman World Atlas. Describe where the worst affected areas are to be found.
The government is working with non-government and international organizations on the arsenic contamination problem in Bangladesh. Some of the measures are:
Removal of arsenic in households: various filtration units, along with a passive sedimentation process, are used to filter contaminated water to make it fit for drinking.
Very shallow tube wells: it has been found that water is arsenic-tree at shallow depths so such tube wells can provide arsenic-free water.
Pond sand filters: a sand filter is constructed near and pond to provide arsenic-free drinking water.
Rainwater storage: rainwater is considered a good arsenic-free water source and is stored in earthenware or Ferro-cement jars to be used later for drinking and other purposes.
Deep groundwater: water deeper than 150 meters below the ground is considered to be mostly arsenic-free, and is considered a long-term source of arsenic-free water.
Treated surface water: surface water is mostly contaminated by bacteria, which can be treated to provide a safe source of drinking water.
Arsenic removal plant: large-scale removal of arsenic can be made possible by constructing plants in cities where a piped water supply exists.
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