High levels of arsenic in the groundwater pose the threat of cancer to people in many Bihar villages, but the state government has finally moved to bring safe drinking water from the Ganga river to some of these areas.
'Multi-village water supply projects' have been given the green signal in 200 arsenic-affected villages in three districts.
"The multivillage water supply projects would be launched soon and completed under a timeframe," said Public Health Engineering Minister Ashwani Kumar Choubey.
The projects will cover 130 arsenic-affected villages of Simri block in Buxar district, 45 villages of Bidupur block in Vaishali district and 25 villages of Maner block in Patna district.
D.S. Mishra, an official in the department, said the government would provide safe drinking water from the Ganga to villages affected by arsenic.
"First, the surface water (in the river) will be treated to remove harmful substances and then it will be supplied," Mishra said. He said the treatment of groundwater containing arsenic was costly and not sustainable.
The state government admitted early this year that high levels of arsenic have been found in the groundwater of 15 Bihar districts on either side of the Ganga river, posing the threat of cancer, an official said.
"A total of 57 blocks on both sides of the Ganga are affected by high levels of arsenic in the groundwater," he said.
Arsenic causes cancer of the intestines, liver, kidneys and bladder as well as gangrene. People in several villages are suffering from bone deformation and a variety of skin problems.
"In some affected villages, people have complained of weakening and bending of the bones and dreadful rashes and lumps on the skin," a health expert said.
Arsenic, an odourless and tasteless semi-metal element, occurs naturally in the environment and sometimes as a by-product of agriculture and industry.
An official said the worst affected districts are Bhojpur, Buxar, Vaishali, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, Khagaria, Katihar, Chapra, Munger and Darbhanga and Patna.
Among these, Harail Chapar, a village in Samastipur district, recorded the highest levels of arsenic - 2,100 parts per billion (ppb) - in groundwater, the official added. The World Health Organisation guideline for a safe limit is 10 ppb, while the Indian government's guideline is 50 ppb.
The official said a survey conducted in the arsenic affected districts reveals that the deeper aquifers lying below 80 metres were free of arsenic.
Last year, a state government report based on a survey of water samples collected at random from 19,961 tubewells in 398 villages found that arsenic concentration was above 10 ppb in 310 villages and above 50 ppb in 235 villages.