We Have the Tools, Let’s Use Them

Hamilton, Canada—Cost-effective technologies are available to remove arsenic in groundwater. Why then do tens of millions still fall ill to this chronic problem?

High natural levels of arsenic are characteristic of the groundwater supply in many countries, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Mongolia, and the United States.

Some of the contamination is caused by mining, fertilizers and pesticides, waste disposal, and manufacturing, but mostly it is due to arsenic leeching — dissolved from rocks underground by highly acidic water.

At least 140 million people in 50 countries have drinking water containing arsenic at levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline — 10 μg/L (micrograms per litre). In some places, people are using groundwater with arsenic levels 10 times or more the WHO’s recommended limit.

This exposure, through drinking water and crops irrigated with contaminated water, can lead to severe health, social and economic consequences, including arsenicosis (symptomized by muscular weakness, mld psychological effects), skin lesions, and cancers (lung, liver, kidney, bladder, and skin). The social implications of these health impacts include stigmatization, isolation, and social instability.

Arsenic-related health problems lead to significant economic losses due to lost productivity in many places. In Bangladesh, where the groundwater arsenic problem is most acute, the economic burden from lost productivity is expected to reach an estimated US$ 13.8 billion in about 10 years.

There are many technologies today that, broadly speaking, use one of six approaches to remove arsenic, described in an abundance of scientific studies. Between 2014 to 2018 alone, over 17,400 papers were published describing elements of the problem and a myriad of low-cost treatment technologies.

A report, published by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, draws on 31 peer-reviewed, comparable research papers that appeared between…

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