Groundwater poisoning from arsenic degrading ecosystem rapidly

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Dr Saeed Ahmed Ali

LAHORE, Nov 17 (APP):Arsenic poisoning is also called ‘arsenicosis’  and its impact starts affecting over a long period such as five to twenty years, which gradually has become a serious threat due to an outcome of natural and anthropogenic activities, leading to adverse effects on human health and ecosystem.

 Through the ecosystem, human, plant kingdom and other living organisms are becoming vulnerable to arsenic pollution, as all these actors are in need and inhale water frequently on a daily basis. 
Experts say that a common man uses around two to four litres of drinking water, however, it takes about 3100 litres of water to produce food for a person daily.Arsenic in its worst harmful type, ‘carcinogen’ is most dangerous, which appears mostly in silver, gray and white colour . 

 The immense poisoning can result in ecological collapse which refers to reaching a level by suffering a drastic reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms associated with it, often resulting in mass extinction.

 According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, in many countries arsenic pollution is common and is naturally found in groundwater and soil e.g In most of the South Asian countries including Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, India and Nepal and arsenic is also found in some parts of America.
The report reveals that a long exposure to arsenic polluted water is lethal and 43,000 people die of it annually.

Environmentalist Dr. Mehmood Khalid Qamar said that arsenic compounds cause acute and chronic effects in humans, other communities’ populations and related species at concentrations, which range from a few micrograms to milligrams per litre. 

The arsenic effects include lethality on photosynthesis, inhibition of growth, reproduction and behavioural effects, he revealed.To preserve our ecosystems, arsenic-contaminated areas and environments can be characterized by limited species’ abundance and diversity, he said adding that if levels of arsenate are of high grades, then only species which exhibit high resistance would be able to survive.

Agriculture sector across the globe is the biggest user of water by means of calculation, around 70 percent advance countries’ withdrawal and around 95 percent in some developing countries.

 Similarly, as a rule of thumb, around 1500 cubic meters per tonne water is needed for crops of harvested cereal, or by other means it takes 1.5 tonnes of water for growing one kg of cereal.

In Pakistan various tests show that arsenic is found in wells and deep reservoirs, Ameer Afzal working as deputy director at Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) told APP.

He said that the functioning of laboratories across the province was being upgraded and some projects were not completed due to lack of funds. To identify arsenic and contamination in water, the new labs would be set up at a cost of Rs1.2 billion, which would ensure availability of potable water to citizens, he added.

Afzal said that to ensure clean water, the PCRWR had carried out various water quality monitoring projects in the country, adding that 70 to -82 percent water samples, collected from 3,000 villages in 26 districts, were found contaminated with arsenic or unsafe for drinking. Various filtration methods and devices were available to clean the arsenic from water, but some of such devices were very costly and unaffordable , he said while replying to a query, adding that the ‘Watermelon Rind Filter Method’ was the most cheapest developed method, so far, he informed.

 While following earnest suggestions and reports submitted by the experts, the PTI government was devising a swift and comprehensive strategy to deal with the issue of deadly chemical ‘arsenic’ in underground water of the country, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology sources revealed. In the light of various suggestions and reports regarding arsenic presence in underground water, the government was working on a rapid system plan to evolve the strategy on a war-footing, they said.
In this connection the PTI government had already decided to set up 24 state-of-the-art water testing laboratories throughout the country, they added.

To a query they said that the government was initiating several other steps in this regard, adding the steps included the low-cost arsenic detection testing kits and production of chlorination and disinfection tablets and development of microbiological testing kits.

 Dr. Tehseen Riaz of Jinnah Hospital told APP that arsenic contamination of groundwater in different parts of the world had reached alarming levels, causing serious health hazards to millions of people in different parts of the world, who are heavily dependent on groundwater for drinking purposes. He said that arsenic in water was deteriorating the people’s health affected by diseases globally, such as skin lesions and pigmentation of the skin, patches on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Moreover arsenic poisoning culminates into potentially fatal diseases like skin and internal cancers, he informed.

Absorption of arsenic through the skin is minimal and thus hand-washing, bathing, laundry and such other daily use functions involved with ‘water containing arsenic’ do not pose human health risks.
Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning here that a team of the Pakistani scientists at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF) had successfully developed a cost-effective technology to clean poisonous arsenic in drinking water by using the ‘watermelon rind method’.

During the course of their research, the scientists had examined and discovered that chemically modified ‘xanthated watermelon rind’ was the best way to mention and catch arsenic, which was usually found in abundance in groundwater in different parts of the country.