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Arsenic-polluted water toxic to Bangladesh economy
Date:11/30/2010

The well-reported arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh called the "largest mass poisoning of a population in history" by the World Health Organization and known to be responsible for a host of slow-developing diseases has now been shown to have an immediate and toxic effect on the struggling nation's economy.

An international team of economists is the first to identify a dramatic present-day consequence of the contaminated groundwater wells, in addition to the longer-term damages expected to occur in coming years.

According to research published online in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, exposure to arsenic in rural Bangladesh is poisonous to the nation's economy, reducing the labor supply by 8 percent.

"This is a very large effect," says lead author Richard Carson, professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego, "larger than the increase in unemployment in the United States from the 'Great Recession'."

The exposure has also altered work arrangements, changing how labor is allocated within a household. Bangladesh is a poor country and many of its citizens have limited access to healthcare and health insurance. Most families have to fend for themselves. As a result, the researchers say, women older than 45 are working fewer hours outside the home while men aged 25 to 65 are working more. "Essentially, what we think is happening," Carson said, "is that grandma stays home to take care of the sick people while all the able-bodied men are working longer hours to compensate."

The arsenic problem in Bangladesh dates to the 1970s, when shallow groundwater wells were installed throughout the country, unwittingly tapping into naturally occurring arsenic in the ground. The present study uses a novel method that, according to Carson and his coauthors, could be applied to discovering the effects of other environmental pollutants in developing nations, sooner.

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Contact: Inga Kiderra
ikiderra@ucsd.edu
858-822-0661
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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