Scientists suggest solutions for poisonous well water crisis in South Asia

June 2nd, 2010 - 1:45 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 2 (ANI): Over 100 million people in rural southern Asia drink water contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic - sourced by well water.

These people face double the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and inhibition of mental development of children, among other serious effects.

The source of South Asia’s arsenic contamination is the Himalayan Mountains. Minerals from rocks, eroding coal seams, and sediments contain arsenic and are carried into the major rivers that flow out of the mountains.

The flat, low-lying floodplains of these major rivers are the areas affected by groundwater contamination.

Holly Michael, assistant professor of geological sciences in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware along with Scott Fendorf from Stanford and Alexander van Geen from Columbia University suggested digging deeper wells to reach uncontaminated aquifers for supplying safe drinking water.

The challenge is that farmers also want access to this water to irrigate their rice paddies. The scientists showed that mechanized pumps instead of hand pumps to bring groundwater to the surface draw large amounts of water inducing a much faster downward migration of arsenic-contaminated surface water into the deep aquifer.

“To protect drinking water from arsenic contamination, we recommend that deeper wells only be used by individual households for drinking water and not for crop irrigation,” Michael says.

Other suggestions include reinvigorating well-testing campaigns by governments and international organizations and better use of existing geological data and the compilation of test results to target zones that are low in arsenic for the installation of community wells.

“Obviously, arsenic-contaminated drinking water is a huge problem from a human health perspective,” Michael says.

“We’ve shown that there are some viable options in South Asia, but there is much more that we need to understand.”

The study appears in the May 28 issue of the journal Science. (ANI)

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