Ganga-Meghna Brahmaputra || West Bengal || Bangladesh || Middle Ganga Plain, Bihar || Uttarpradesh
Jharkhand || Assam || Rajnandgaon, Chattisgarh || Behala, Kolkata, WB || As toxicity- Homeopathic Treatment
Effectiveness & Reliability - As Field Testing Kits || Utility Of Treatment Plant
Causes, Effects & Remedies - Groundwater As Calamity || References

Arsenic Poisoning in West Bengal : Field Testing Kits for Arsenic



Arsenic contamination of groundwater and the resultant sufferings of people in West Bengal, India, came to light in the early Eighties. Although we are on the verge of stepping into a new millennium, we still do not know how many people are drinking contaminated water in the 69 blocks of the 9 affected disrticts of the state and how many people are suffering from arsenic toxicity (both clinically and sub-clinically).Till 1995, the enormity of West Bengal's arsenic contamination was considered to be the biggest arsenic calamity in the world. But the arsenic problem of Bangladesh, which surfaced during 1995, has surpassed that of all other countries.
As per the available data, the area of the 9 arsenic affected districts in West Bengal is 38,000 sq. km and its population is 39 million; in Bangladesh, the area and population of the 42 districts where we have found arsenic above 50 µg/l are 83,000 sq. km and 80 million respectively. It is true that the entire population of 119 million people in the two countries are not drinking contaminated water and are not suffering from arsenic toxicity, but they are undoubtedly at risk.

Data-bsed reports on how may people are drinking contaminated water containing arsenic above the permissible limit of 50 µg/l are neither available in West Bengal,India, nor in Bangladesh. To find that out, the Field-Kit method was suggested, and Bangladesh has already spent about a million US dollars for this purpose. Likewise, the government of West Bengal, jointly with UNICEF,is soon going to launch a 1.2-million dollar project for such Field Kit testing. Bangladesh is thinking of committing another few million dollars to Field Kits.

In this report we are highlighting the available Field Kit data generated by other organisations at the field level to judge the effectiveness of Field Testing Kits on which millions of dollars are going to be spent. It appears that such data may not be reliable to certify which water is safe which is not. So we need to rethink whether we should spend millions of dollars on projects that are going to yield questionable results.
We are thinking of million-dollar Field Kit projects without considering whether the same budget can help produce reliable data through instrumental techniques. In this report we are suggesting an intrumental technique that will produce reliable data upto 5 µg/l of arsenic with 95% confidence at 1/3 the amount the Government of West Bengal/UNICEF are planning to spend on field kits. It is further to state that the instrumental technique will analyse as many samples as Field Kit do.

International Opinion on Field Kits for arsenic analysis

* "The Mercuric Bromide stain method was evaluated in Round Robin exercise. The arsenic concentrations for a solution of arsenic at 50 µg As/L in distilled water had relative standard deviation 75%". (The arsenic field kits are based on mercuric bromide stain method principle). [Source: Arsenic exposure and health effects edited by: C.O. Abernathy, R.L. Calderon, W.R. Chappell, Chapmann & Hall,1997,page-18]* "The mercuric – bromide stain method is incapable of providing a quantitative meaningful result (Results with RSD <= 10%) below concentration of 150 µg As/L". [Source: Arsenic exposure and health effects edited by: C.O. Abernathy, R.L.Calderon,W.R.Chappell, Chapmann & H all,1997,page-30]* "The kit is not only inadequate to screen water samples containing less than 100 ppb of arsenic, it also produces toxic arsine gas that may be a health hazard." [Source: A. Hossain, et al., Environ. Sci. Technol, ASAP Article, American Chemical Socieity, Web Release Date: September 4,1999]

1. The World Bank, UNICEF and other funding agencies are evaluating the nature and extent of groundwater arsenic contamination in Bangladesh with the help of field-kits, and the total project cost is about 1.0 million US dollars.2. The Government of West Bengal and UNICEF have taken up a project to evaluate arsenic-contaminated tubewells in the affected districts of West Bengal with the help of Arsenic Field Testing Kits and the budget for this exercise is more than 1.0 million US dollars.3. A major project to identify arsenic-contaminated tubewells in Bangladesh is expected to be launched soon. The project is going to cost a few million dollars.