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'12 Bihar districts drink poison'

12 districts including the capital Patna are in the grip of a arsenic contamination crisis, thanks to the dipping levels of ground water.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2007 03:57 IST
Binod Dubey/Jyotindra

A Bihar government study on ground water in the state has come up with an alarming statistic — 12 districts including the capital Patna are in the grip of a arsenic contamination crisis, thanks to the dipping levels of ground water.

The study, conducted by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in 2006-07, found that the average arsenic content in the ground water in the districts in question is 500 parts per billion (ppb).

World Health Organisation guidelines specify 10 ppb of arsenic as the permissible limit for arsenic in potable water. Arsenic, a part-metal element, is a dangerous toxic substance, all the more so since its impact on health becomes evident only after prolonged consumption.

Drinking water with high arsenic content may cause life-threatening diseases like gangrene and cancer of the intestine, liver, kidneys and the urinary bladder.

One of the most worrying aspects is that over the last five years, the problem has spread to several districts, with Darbhanga being the latest. The other districts are Patna, Bhojpur, Vaishali, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, Buxar, Khagaria, Begusarai, Katihar, Chapra and Munger.

PHED engineer-in-chief Madan Kumar said in India, the permissible limit for arsenic in potable water has been put at 50 ppb by the health authorities, in view of the climatic conditions and general resistance levels of the people. However, 12 districts have revealed over 500 ppb arsenic content. The worst-affected areas are between Maner and Danapur.

Asked about the spreading of arsenic-affected areas, Kumar said it might be because of the significant drop in water levels, which has led to higher concentration of arsenic.

PHED has recommended that people drink water only from tubewells that have been declared arsenic-free. These have been painted blue by the department, he said. The dangerous ones had been painted red, he added.

Former head of the Department of Medicine, PMCH, Dr Gauri Shankar Singh, said a significant number of people with symptoms of arsenic poisoning had reported to his clinic but had been advised to government hospitals. HoD of radiotherapy, PMCH, Dr Mithilesh Singh, said: "Blood cancer may also be caused by heavy and prolonged consumption."

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