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Contamination of Thailand's, Hungarian and Bangladesh's drinking water with arsenic



Type of Spiritual Experience




A description of the experience

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2008;197:163-87. Case reports: arsenic pollution in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Hungary. Jones H1, Visoottiviseth P, Bux MK, Födényi R, Kováts N, Borbély G, Galbács Z.

Although arsenic contamination in the three countries described herein differs, a number of common themes emerge.

In each country, the presence of arsenic is both long term and of geological origin.

Moreover, in each of these countries, arsenic was only recently discovered to be a potential public health problem, having been first formally recognized in the 1980s or 1990s.

  • In Bangledesh, exposure of the public to arsenic arose as a result of the search for microbially safe drinking water; this search resulted in the sinking of tube wells into aquifers.
  • In Hungary, the natural bedrock geology was responsible for contamination of aquifer water.
  • In Thailand, the genesis of arsenic contamination  arose primarily from small-scale alluvial mining activities, which mobilized geologically bound arsenic.

Because of the complex chemistry of arsenic, and variability in where it is found and how it is bound, multiple mitigation methods must be considered for mitigating episodes of environmental contamination.

Thailand - The Ron Phibun region of Thailand has a 100-yr history of tin mining. A geological survey of the region was conducted in the mid-1990s by the Department of Mineral Resources and Department of Industry of Thailand, and was supported by the British Geological Society. Skin cancer in Thailand was first reported in 1987, in the southern part of the country; among other symptoms observed, there was evidence of IQ diminutions among the population. Arsenic water levels to 9,000 pg/L were reported; such levels are substantially above any guideline levels. A long-term plan to mitigate arsenic contamination was devised in 1998-2000. The plan involved removal of arsenic-contaminated land and improved management of mining wastes. However, at $22 million, the cost was deemed prohibitive for the regional Thai economy. An alternative solution of providing pipeline drinking water to the exposed population was also unsuccessful, either because arsenic contamination levels did not fall sufficiently, or because the quantity of water delivered to the population was inadequate. Membrane technology treatment, using reverse osmosis, was successful during the summer months, but membrane filter replacement costs prevented wide implementation. Less expensive options, such as the use of rainwater jars, were feasible in areas with adequate rainfall. Algae and phytoremediation and wetland treatment of surface waters were useful, but the waste disposal necessitated by such treatments reduces acceptance.

Bangladesh - The development and population growth in Bangladesh from 1980 to 2000 resulted in improved water quality, primarily because of the drilling of about 10 million tube wells. The unintended consequence of this action resulted in exposure of about 40 million people to toxic levels of arsenic, which was a natural contaminant of the aquifers. Numerous remediation strategies have been implemented to deal with this problem, including the use of dug wells, pond sand filters, household filters, rainwater harvesting, deep tube wells, chemical-based options, and construction of village piped water supplies. Varying levels of success, which is largely dependent on local resources and conditions, have been reported for the different mitigation methodologies.

Hungary - Although Hungary has already invested huge sums of money to reduce arsenic levels in the most contaminated counties, further investments are needed to comply with the strict European threshold value. The fact that arsenic contamination is a natural ongoing process creates a barrier to long-term success. At present, the most appropriate option for securing safe water for drinking and cooking is treatment of water at the tap. Both adsorption and membrane filtration are efficient methods to remove arsenic from drinking water. The presence of contaminants other than arsenic may also require dual or multiple removal processes. Decision makers, as is common, must consider not only removal efficiency but also operating and investment costs of an operation.

PMID: 18983000

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