An estimated 60 million people in Bangladesh are exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water, dramatically raising their risk for cancer and other serious diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Because most of the contaminated water is near the surface, many people in Bangladesh have installed deep wells to tap into groundwater that's relatively free of arsenic.
In recent years, farmers have begun using the deep, uncontaminated aquifers for irrigation a practice that could compromise access to clean drinking water across the country, according to a report in the May 27 issue of journal Science.
The report is co-authored by groundwater experts Scott Fendorf (Stanford University), Holly A. Michael (University of Delaware) and Alexander van Geen (Columbia University).
"Every effort should be made to prevent irrigation by pumping from deeper aquifers that are low in arsenic," the authors wrote. "This precious resource must be preserved for drinking."
Every day, more than 100 million people are exposed to arsenic-contaminated drinking water in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam.
Over the last 10 years, Fendorf, Michael and van Geen have conducted long-term groundwater studies throughout southern Asia with the goal of finding low-cost solutions to what the WHO calls the largest mass poisoning in history.
"Our Science report presents an overview of the scientific consensus and continuing uncertainty about the root causes of the arsenic calamity," said Fendorf, a professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford.
Crisis in southern Asia
Unlike most countries in the region, India and Bangladesh have very deep aquifers that typically have low levels of arsenic. In Bangladesh, one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world, concerns about arsenic-contaminated rice cr
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|