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Researchers believe about 140 million people, mainly in developing countries, are being poisoned by arsenic in their drinking water.

Scientists at the Royal Geographical Society meeting in London said that arsenic exposure will lead to higher rates of cancer in the future. According to Peter Ravenscroft, a research associate at Cambridge University, “It’s a global problem, present in 70 countries, probably more.”

Potential hazard

Some of the effects of arsenic consumption do not appear until decades after initial exposure. One in every ten people with high concentrations of arsenic in their water will die from it. So far, the international response is not adequate to resolve the problem.

Once the source of the arsenic has been identified, there are potential solutions that can reduce the risk of exposure:

-Digging deeper wells
-Purifying the water
-Identifying alternative clean water supplies

In an attempt to be proactive, governments should test all wells in order to assess the threat to communities.

Problems for agriculture

Using water for agriculture is also a source of arsenic poisoning. For example, in Asian countries, rice is grown in paddy fields that are often flooded with water from the contaminated wells. The arsenic in the water is absorbed from the soil and transferred to the grain. Clearly, this presents a problem for countries where rice is the staple food; however, Andrew Meharg from Aberdeen University believes it could be an issue for the UK, specifically in communities that consume rice frequently.

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For further information:
WHO drinking water quality

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