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Arsenic was first written about by Albertus Magnus (Germany) in 1250.

Its Atomic Mass


is 74.92. Arsenic is a naturally occurring toxic substance- white, metallic powder,
tasteless and odorless found in the earths crust. In nature, there is plenty of arsenic.
Arsenic is present in air, soil and water. Arsenic content of natural water may be up to 12 microgram/L. Most fruits, vegetables, meats and fishes contain arsenic; but arsenic
levels in sea water and sea fishes are higher. Sea fish may contain 5 mg of arsenic per kg
weight.
Living with nature means human beings take a little amount of arsenic every day through
breaths, food or drinks. But, as they are negligible in quantity and organic in nature, they
do no harm. An intake of 150 microgram of arsenic per day should not cause any harmful
effect to human being, but very sensitive person often becomes sick with as low as 20
microgram of arsenic a day.
Discovering Arsenic Problem
First sample of arsenic contaminated water was detected only recently in 1993 in
connection to the examination of tube well water samples in some southern districts of
Bangladesh by the Public Health Engineering Department of the Government of
Bangladesh.
Later several government and non-government organizations conducted more surveys, and
according to the latest estimate there is arsenic contamination in at least 46 districts
out of 64. There are about 4.5 million tube wells in Bangladesh and water samples from
30,000 have been examined so far.
Toxic Effects of Arsenic on human health:
Arsenic is a poison and its lethal dose for human is 125 milligram. It is 4 times as
poisonous as mercury.
Toxicity depends on the amount of arsenic intake, which is classified into acute, subacute and chronic toxicity respectively. Drinking water contamination causes the last
variety of toxicity. Most of the ingested arsenic is excreted from the body through
urine, stool, skin, hair, nail and breath. In excessive intake, some amount of arsenic is
deposited in tissues and inhibits cellular enzyme activities.
Almost all organs are affected; but clinical symptoms appear insidiously after 6 months
to 2 years or more depending upon the amount of arsenic intake. Chronic toxicity of
arsenic is best discussed in terms of organ systems affected, viz. skin, liver, nervous
system, cardiovascular system and respiratory system.

Control Measures Taken for Mitigation of Arsenic Contamination


The Government of Bangladesh has framed three Committees: The National Steering

Committee headed by the Hon'ble Health and Family Welfare Minister,


The Arsenic Technical Committee headed by the Director General of Health

Services and
The Scientific Research Committee headed by the Chairman of Bangladesh
Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC).

Government has taken 4 strategies to mitigate the problem. These include: Immediate
detection of the arsenicoses patients and ensure their treatment, find out alternate
sources of safe drinking water, find out reasons of arsenic contamination in soil water,
and conduct health education campaigns encouraging people avoid arsenic contaminated
drinking water.
Government has taken Short Term and Long-Term programs to implement the strategies.
These are as follows:
Short Term Programs:
Create laboratory facilities for quantitative analysis of arsenic and determine its

toxicity levels in humans.


Conduct training courses for officers and staff in the health services.
Conduct national survey to identify new problem prone areas.
Conduct appropriate health education campaigns.
Create outpatient services for detection and treatment of arsenicoses patients

throughout the country.


Build communications programs with national and international organizations for
collaboration in the control measures.
Long Term Programs
Find out causes of arsenic contamination of soil water, identify sources and take
control measures.
Create a Surveillance Team starting from grass-root level up to the central level to
identify, treat, follow up and conduct water-testing activities.
Establish 10-bed arsenic hospitals in the affected districts with a view to provide
treatment to the complicated patients and also conduct research.