More than 20% of India’s underground water found contaminated with arsenic: IIT Kharagpur

More than 25 crore people of our nation are being forced to drink water contaminated with arsenic.

In a study carried out by IIT Kharagpur using an AI (Artificial Intelligence) based inference model it was found that the poisonous substance arsenic was present in more than 20% of the country’s underground water.

According to the estimates made by a few government and non-government organizations it was found that a large percent of the total population is being affected by the contamination. With the increasing water pollution, we need to take strict measures when it comes to collecting water samples from different regions and studying it for more chemical contamination.

According to the Assistant Professor Abhijit Mukherjee of IIT Kharagpur, it was reported that these high arsenic zones are present mostly along the Indus Ganga-Brahmaputra river basin and in the peninsular areas.

Health Effects- According to the World Health Organization, arsenic is highly toxic in inorganic form. Prolonged exposure to consuming contaminated water can cause cancer, skin lesions and other diseases when it reaches the body. It has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults.

Sources of Exposure-

Arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land. People are exposed to high levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food.

Dietary Sources– Seafood, Poultry and dairy products contain arsenic although the amount is very low in comparison and arsenic is present in its less toxic organic form.

Industrial Processes– Arsenic is used widely in industries as an alloying agent, in processing of glass, pigments, paper, wood etc., and also in a limited extent in making pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Smoking tobacco– Tobacco plants can take up arsenic naturally present in soil so people who smoke tobacco are exposed to natural inorganic arsenic.

Prevention and control

  • Substituting high arsenic sources such as groundwater, with low arsenic sources such as rain water and treated surface water.
  • Install arsenic removal systems and ensure the appropriate disposal of the removed arsenic. Technologies for removal of arsenic include oxidation, coagulation-precipitation, absorption, ion exchange, and membrane techniques. The most important action in affected communities is the prevention of further exposure to arsenic of a safe water supply.
  • Discriminate between high-arsenic and low-arsenic levels and paint tube wells or hand pumps with different colours.

Arsenic is one of WHO’s 10 chemicals of major public health concerns. WHO’s work to reduce arsenic exposure includes setting guideline values, reviewing evidence, and providing risk management recommendations.

Educating others about the dangers and necessities of this problem is crucial and community engagement is important for ensuring successful interventions. There is a need for community members to understand the risks of high arsenic exposure and the sources of arsenic exposure, including the intake of arsenic by crops (e.g. rice) from irrigation water and the intake of arsenic into food from cooking water.

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