Mitigation of arsenic contamination in groundwater in West Bengal - Need experiences and case studies in mitigation

From Arunabha Majumder, All India Institute of Public Health and Hygiene (AIIHPH), Kolkata
Posted 20 February 2008

I am a Professor, Department of Sanitary Engineering, All India Institute of Public Hygi ene and Health in West Bengal and have worked extensively on arsenic contamination of groundwater.

Arsenic contamination was detected in West Bengal in the beginning of the 1980s. Today it has spread to 8 districts, 79 blocks, 11 municipal areas and 18 non-municipal areas in West Bengal. It is also found in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisharh, Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Arsenic is a slow poisoning metalloid that causes skin lesion, keratosis, melanosis, liver and intestinal disorders, nausea, coughs, colds and i nfluenza, nervous system disorders, urinary and kidney problems, lung and cardio -vascular problem. Acute arsenic poisoning causes cancer of the skin, lever, kidney and lung. Many villagers in these states are affected with arsenicosis. Poor villagers who already have a heavy burden of malnutrition are generally the victim of arsenicosis in the affected areas.

Mitigation measures include the following:

  • Intensive water quality monitoring (100%sources on regular basis)
  • Supply of arsenic free or arsenic-safe drinking water in the affected areas. This can be achieved by purified surface water supply, installing deep bore wells or tube wells to draw water from arsenic safe aquifers, rain water harvesting and removal of arsenic (domestic or community)
  • Diagnosis and treatment of patients
  • Awareness and motivation
  • Conducting epidemiological studies in the arsenic a ffected areas
  • Conducting hydro -geological study to assess dynamic mechanism of leaching of arsenic in ground water
  • Providing nutritional support to the villagers
  • Conducting Training programmes
  • Development of IEC mate rials

Given the inter-state nature of the problem, I would like to recommend setting up a Centre of Excellence on Arsenic Problem Mitigation. This will pull together resources and expertise from different sources, provide advice, develop appropriate technical solutions to the problem of arsenic contamination, act as a referral centre for people from arsenic -affected areas, conduct epidemiological and other studies and develop IEC material. It will also develop simple methods to test water in arsenic c ontaminated areas. The centre will act as a resource for all states from where arsenic contamination is being reported.

I therefore request members to share:

  • Experiences on reducing arsenic in drinking water and its impact on human health as well as case studies where these have been implemented.

Based on your experiences, members are requested to provide further information to guide the establishment of the Centre of Excellence on Arsenic Problem Mitigation:

  • Must the Ownership of the Centre be with the PRIs, State government or Central Government, or be outside the government machinery
  • Suggestions with regard to mandate and structure for the Centre.

Look forward to your inputs

Please see attachment below for the responses.

20 February 2008