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Water Quality in Pakistan
Recent research published in the journal Science Advances has serious implications for up to 60 million Pakistanis—groundwater in the Indus Valley has been found to contain arsenic that likely exceeds a level safe for human consumption. The poor water quality in Pakistan puts many at risk of arsenic poisoning.

The published research comes from the World Health Organization (WHO), which took 1,200 groundwater samples throughout the Indus Plain. Scientists then used this data to create a “hazard map” to determine how many people would be affected by this contamination.

What they found was that 50 million—maybe even 60 million—people would be affected by contaminated groundwater, a number far greater than previously calculated. This estimate was given considering that 60 to 70 percent of the population in Pakistan relies on groundwater.

While the WHO has established that 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water is an acceptable concentration, the Pakistani government has always permitted a higher concentration of 50 micrograms per liter.

Although arsenic is naturally present in the ground, researchers suggest that human activities may have exacerbated the amount present in the groundwater in the Indus Plain. Lubna Bukhari, the head of Pakistan’s Council for Research in Water Resources, notes that, due to a lack of regulation, humans have exploited the groundwater, leading to an increase in arsenic.

There are no immediate effects of arsenic poisoning; however, the long-term health effects are severe. Long-term exposure to arsenic-laced water can cause skin lesions, damage to organs and even heart disease and cancer.

A statement by the WHO pressed the need to test “all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain.” With roughly a quarter of the population at risk for arsenic poisoning, the need to address water quality in Pakistan is urgent. Researchers also suggested health intervention programs for those impacted by the contamination.

For those that rely on groundwater for drinking, cooking and farming, the discovery of the contamination could severely impact their livelihoods. The Pakistani government must work to ensure that those impacted by the contamination—no small figure—are offered consumption-worthy alternatives to arsenic-tainted water.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

The Codex Alimentarius Commission announced last week that tighter restrictions should be placed on the amount of lead in baby formula, as well as the amount of arsenic in rice.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an organization managed by both the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Commission, baby formula should contain no more than 0.01 mg/kg of lead and rice no more than 0.2 mg/kg of arsenic.

Codex helps to set safety standards and nutritional guidelines for food consumers and suppliers throughout the world. The Commission’s annual meeting featured representatives from 170 countries, the European Union and 30 international governmental and non-governmental bodies.

According to a 2010 WHO report, childhood lead poisoning is a common and well-understood childhood disease. With an environmental origin, a child’s exposure to lead can originate from petrol, the mining industry, lead-based paints, soil, drinking water and different forms of waste.

The report states that extensive lead exposure can result in nervous system and brain damage and even death. Acute symptomatic lead poisoning is common today in developing countries where children inhabit areas prone to lead poisoning.

While lead is a naturally-occurring chemical, it often ends up in baby formula due to the nature of the formula’s production.

Additionally, high levels of prolonged exposure to arsenic can result in cancer, skin lesions, developmental problems, heart disease and diabetes. Arsenic that is ingested can cause nervous system and brain problems.

Like lead, arsenic is a naturally-occurring chemical found in groundwater and soil. It is arguably most dangerous in parts of Asia where rice paddy fields often utilize arsenic-rich groundwater. Crop farming in raised beds rather than arsenic-tainted fields diminishes the danger of the chemical affecting agriculture.

In addition, Codex suggested that some veterinary drugs be outlawed in farm animals as a means to prevent the drugs from affecting consumable foods, including meat, milk, eggs or honey. The participating countries called for new limits on pesticide residues and additives in foods, limits on toxins and other contaminants and new safety and quality measures for certain foods.

As the Commission and the developed world seek to create a safer and more inhabitable society, tighter restrictions on consumable products may continue to play an important role in shaping the need for more reliable food standards.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Nutrition Insight, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: Wikipedia

Arsenic
Reawakening the global health problem of unclean, polluted drinking water, rural Asian villages have been plagued with arsenic-ridden water. Most of these rural villages are near mines which leak and pollute local water sources with the carcinogen arsenic. In the past decade, the Heshan village in China has seen nearly 20 percent of the population get cancer from the polluted water.

The arsenic has been traced back to runoff and residue from a local mine that was closed in 2011. The 190 living cancer patients have petitioned the local governments for monetary compensation and aid, but the $1,600 reimbursement is insufficient for even one round of chemotherapy or radiation. For many of these poor rural villagers, the cancer diagnosis from arsenic poisoning is nothing less than a death sentence because of the unaffordable cost of treatment.

Tests of the ground water have resulted in arsenic amounts 15 times the safe amount of arsenic. The water is so toxic that many of the agricultural staples are not viable in the region, stripping these people of their livelihood and reinforcing the cycle of poverty in the area.

Similar cases have been reported throughout China and India. With water security being of the utmost importance, cancer patterns have sprung up around villages with arsenic in the water. Local medical professionals have denied the correlation between the high arsenic levels and the cancer hotspots, despite the fact that arsenic has been recognized by many health institutions as a known carcinogen.

The lack of transparency between health officials and the villagers coupled with insufficient cleaning methods has resorted in the outbreaks of cancer caused by arsenic. The toxicity of the element, both for humans and agriculture, has stunted the regional economies and has restricted the employment pool. A needless tragedy, the arsenic-laden drinking waters have destroyed families and the economies of the rural villages afflicted by the toxic water.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: American Cancer Society, Reuters, Times of India
Photo: Trip Advisor