Arsenic and fluoride are the two main natural contaminants of groundwater in India. The related diseases due to prolonged exposure are arsenicosis and fluorosis, prevalent in many arid villages of India. In the present report, authors Rajanarayan Indu, Sunderrajan Krishnan and Tushaar Shah analyse the social and economic dimensions of these irreversible diseases.
In India, high fluoride concentrations in groundwater (greater than 1 mg/l – milligrams per litre) are widespread in the arid to semi-arid western states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. A field research study conducted at 6 areas severely affected by fluorosis shows that affordability of safer drinking water is related with higher income level and that the severity of fluorosis affliction is higher for lower income levels. The cost incurred from medicines and loss of wages is a significant proportion of the earnings and has a general debilitating impact on the affected families. As compared with fluorosis, the skin afflictions of arsenicosis carry greater social stigma and incur higher costs on patients. In Nadia district in West Bengal, the impacts of arsenic contamination are more severe with increasing age. Cumulatively over the entire afflicted population, both fluoride and arsenic contamination have a high cost on society and addressing the problem would require more attention from government agencies and society apart from individual awareness.
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