Over 100 million people in rural southern Asia are exposed every day to unsafe levels of arsenic from the well-water they drink. It more than doubles their risks for cancer, causes cardiovascular disease, and inhibits the mental development of children, among other serious effects.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has referred to the situation in Bangladesh, where an estimated 60 million people are affected, as "the largest mass poisoning of a population in history."
In the May 28 issue of the journal Science, researchers from Stanford University, the University of Delaware, and Columbia University review what scientists understand about this groundwater contamination crisis and offer solutions for the region, which spans Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
Holly Michael, assistant professor of geological sciences in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware, is a co-author of the article, with Scott Fendorf from Stanford and Alexander van Geen from Columbia University. Fendorf received his doctorate from UD in 1992 and is now chair of environmental and Earth system science at Stanford.
Michael earned her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined the UD faculty in 2008. She traveled to Bangladesh to study the groundwater contamination problem firsthand during her postdoctoral training with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth's crust. Tasteless, odorless, and colorless in solution, the element is a known carcinogen and can be detected in water only through testing.
The source of South Asia's arsenic contamination is the Himalaya Mountains. Minerals from rocks, eroding coal seams, and sediments contain arsenic and are carried into the major rivers that flow out of the mountains, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irawaddy, Meghna, Mekong, and Red rivers. The f
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University of Delaware