Arsenic contamination affects West Bengal’s rural areas

June 4th, 2008 - 4:31 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Kolkata, June 4 (IANS) Kartik Biswas, a research scholar working on environmental issues, did not know the fatal effect of arsenic contamination. By the time he realised it, he had already lost six members of his family, including his parents. All of them suffered from arsenic contamination and died of cancer. Kartik and his sister, who hail from Nadia district in West Bengal, were the only ones in their family who survived.

This is not an isolated case of arsenic contamination in the rural districts of West Bengal.

Even as World Environment Day is observed June 5, an estimated 6.5 million people in this eastern state continue to be at risk due to the presence of high level of arsenic in the ground water they drink everyday.

“The first case of arsenic (contamination) was detected in the state in 1983. Since then, lot of efforts have been made in the rural districts to combat the environmental menace. But, I personally feel our achievement is minimal,” Director (Research) of Jadavpur University’s School of Environmental Studies Dipankar Chakraborty told IANS.

Of the state’s 18 districts, nine - Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Burdwan, Purulia and Hooghly - face this problem, with nearly 300,000 people already suffering from arsenic related diseases.

“Despite twenty years of research and preventive activities, the problem has not been eradicated from rural Bengal. Many villagers are still unaware of the fact that they are drinking contaminated water, which is responsible for their skin lesions,” he said.

Arsenic is a carcinogen that causes many cancers including skin, lung, and bladder as well as cardiovascular diseases. A study conducted last year revealed that over 137 million people in over 70 countries are affected by arsenic.

“Previously, it was thought skin cancer is a common type of cancer caused by arsenic. But lung, liver, colon, bladder cancers have also been found among those affected from chronic arsenic toxicity,” he said.

Chakraborty regretted that the arsenic story has turned menacing due to negligence and lack of proper controlling mechanism. Infants and children were at greater risk as they consume more water as compared to their body weight.

He said about two million children in the state are drinking water that contains more than the maximum permissible limit (50

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