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Arsenic contamination on the rise: 1 lakh dead, 3 lakh suffering

Arsenic contamination is spreading fast in 12 states and beyond, with around one lakh people already dead and the chemical entering the food chain through farm products in the region, a committee of secretaries in a report to the government has said.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2015 01:31 IST
Chetan Chauhan
About 7.04 crore people have been affected by arsenic-related diseases.
About 7.04 crore people have been affected by arsenic-related diseases.(HT File Photo)

Arsenic contamination is spreading fast in 12 states and beyond, with around one lakh people already dead and the chemical entering the food chain through farm products in the region, a committee of secretaries in a report to the government has said.

The committee has also estimated that 7.04 crore people have been affected, with around three lakh people having arsenic-related diseases in the country. Of them, the report said, around 30% are poor and malnourished and the money needed to deal with the problem is about Rs 9,700 crore.

More damning is the research done by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), showing that 90% of arsenic-laden water in affected areas was used for irrigation, with the study finding its traces in vegetables covering farm-rich states like Haryana and Punjab.

The council found high quantity of arsenic in potato, brinjal, arum, amaranth, radish, lady finger, and cauliflower, while a relatively low level of accumulation was found in beans, green chilli, tomato, bitter guard, lemon and turmeric.

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Major oil seeds and pulses are reported to contain high arsenic content, the report said, adding that high-yielding rice varieties have more arsenic accumulation than the local varieties.

“As people take contaminated water along with contaminated food, the chances of damage become greater. The food crops sold to inhabitants of uncontaminated regions lead to their consumption of arsenic contaminated food,” the committee said.

Arsenic groundwater contamination was first reported from West Bengal in 1983. By 2000, its spread was reported from the Ganges-Brahmaputra fluvial plains covering Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Manipur. In the next 14 years, Haryana and Punjab were included in the list.

Now, 96 out of the 640 districts in India, including 13 in Haryana, have high concentration – more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) as against the national standard of 10 ppb – of arsenic.

The report says total number of deaths so far is one lakh people, with over three lakh suffering from arsenic-related diseases. The report, however, does not mention the time frame. Research has shown that consumption of arsenic content can indirectly cause cancer, apart from heart disorders.

The committee suggested a national action plan to address the issue. It has also recommended a national task force to overlook the arsenic contamination action plan and has sought more funds from the government.

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