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Geologists find ponds not the cause of arsenic poisoning in India's groundwater
Date:11/2/2011

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The source of arsenic in India's groundwater continues to elude scientists more than a decade after the toxin was discovered in the water supply of the Bengal delta in India. But a recent study with a Kansas State University geologist and graduate student, as well as Tulane University, has added a twist -- and furthered the mystery.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element, and it causes skin lesions, respiratory failure and cancer when present in high concentrations in drinking water. The environmental crisis began after large traces of the element were detected in the groundwater in the Bengal Basin -- an area inhabited by more than 60 million residents. This has caused a water shortage, illness and death in the region, leaving residents unable to even use the water for ordinary tasks like washing dishes or ablution.

"It's an awful situation," said Saugata Datta, a Kansas State University assistant professor of geology. "This is one of the worst mass poisoning cases in this history of mankind."

Though no definitive arsenic source has been determined, many geologists have claimed that recent man-made ponds in the region are a major contributor, as the heavy rainfall and erosion have created high amounts of organic material -- containing arsenic -- in the ponds. From there the pond's water and organic material seep into the groundwaters.

Datta and colleagues recently completed a study looking at the ponds. Their findings, "Perennial ponds are not an important source of water or dissolved organic matter to groundwaters with high arsenic concentration in West Bengal, India," was published in Geophysical Research Letters in late October, and it also appeared in the journal Nature.

"Our study suggests that ponds are not contributing substantial amount of water or this old organic matter into the groundwaters in the shallow aquifer in this region," Datta said. "These very high arsenic level
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Contact: Saugata Datta
sdatta@k-state.edu
785-532-2241
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert

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