Arsenic Pollution in India

According to a recent peer-reviewed study, even low levels of arsenic ingestion can impair cognitive performance in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Contamination with Arsenic

  • Arsenic is an extremely poisonous element that occurs naturally in the environment.
  • Water contamination, particularly groundwater contamination, is a major cause of arsenic exposure.
  • Long-term arsenic exposure can cause a variety of health problems, including cancer, skin blemishes, cardiovascular disease, and impaired cognitive development.

India is a threat

  • Arsenic contamination in groundwater is one of the most crippling issues in the drinking water scenario of India.
  • According to the latest Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) report, arsenic levels in 21 states throughout the country above the BIS permitted limit of 0.01 milligramme per litre (mg/l).
  • The states along the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Assam — have been hit the most by this man-made geological event.
  • Arsenic pollution was first formally established in India in West Bengal in 1983.
  • The situation has deteriorated nearly four decades after its discovery.
  • Arsenic pollution in groundwater threatens 9.6 million people in West Bengal, 1.6 million in Assam, 1.2 million in Bihar, 0.5 million in Uttar Pradesh, and 0.013 million in Jharkhand.

Key findings of the recent study

(1) Arsenic impact on behaviour

  • The study discovered that people who had been exposed to arsenic had less grey matter and weaker connections in critical areas of the brain linked with cognitive functioning.
  • Chronic arsenic exposure could have serious population-wide repercussions, including more school dropouts, lower economic output, and an increased likelihood of criminal and antisocial behaviour.

(2) Arsenic Exposure and Socioeconomic Factors

  • Previous research has revealed that arsenic exposure is especially detrimental to the poor.
  • The latest study confirms that arsenic exposure causes more cognitive damage in economically and nutritionally deprived people.
  • Arsenic’s impact on cognition is more pronounced at the aggregate level than at the individual level.

Initiatives by the Government to Address Arsenic Contamination

  • Since the 1990s, the governments of Bihar and West Bengal have taken initiatives to mitigate arsenic contamination.
  • Strategies include increasing groundwater extraction from deeper aquifers with lower arsenic levels, constructing arsenic removal plants, and boosting piped water availability.
  • The goal is to reduce arsenic exposure and associated health effects in afflicted areas.

Potential solutions

  • Among the managerial alternatives are
  • Utilisation of surface water sources
  • Exploration and use of alternative arsenic-free aquifers
  • Arsenic removal from groundwater using arsenic treatment plants/filters
  • Using rainwater harvesting and watershed management techniques.
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