How does Arsenic get into my body? Part – I

It is a well known fact that Arsenic is toxic. Arsenic contamination of groundwater is a common problem affecting millions of people around the world. The article starts with a brief overview about arsenic and moves on to discuss how it seeps into groundwater and its harmful effects.

What is Arsenic (As)?

Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs both in pure form and in combination with minerals. It is a heavy metal that has been used as a medicinal agent, as a pigment, as a pesticide and as a poison. Present in low quantities in soil, water and air it is absorbed by plants as they grow making food the largest source of it. Arsenic

Long term exposure to the metal is considered to impact the way cells communicate, reducing their ability to carry out their normal functions. It is known to lead to development of diabetes, cancer, and vascular disease. Long term exposure to high level of arsenic is considered to lead to cancer of the skin, bladder and lungs and even cardiac issues.

The arsenic menace in Punjab

In Punjab in India the primary source of drinking water is ground water. It is a well established fact, that water extracted using hand pumps from not very deep aquifers have high presence of arsenic making it unsuitable for drinking.   In a study it was found that 80% of samples analyzed contained arsenic above the permitted level. Data for some of the districts is as follows:

District Maximum Contamination Mean Level (Municipal Waters)
Faridkot 92% 25.171
Sangrur 88% 21.21
Bathinda 86% 23.75
Ferozepur 74% 14.14
Muktsar 60% 21.86

It is imperative that water being used for drinking and irrigation purposes in the region be carefully monitored for arsenic content. It is equally important that the incidence of health problems caused by arsenic be also monitored. In south western districts of the state it has been recommended that canal water be preferred for drinking over ground water.

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How does arsenic reach inside my body?

The next question that we need to answer is how does arsenic reach inside my body? Arsenic is present in all three elements water, soil and air. Arsenic tends to stay in soil for years and dissolves easily in water.  Arsenic may be introduced to a body along with water that is consumed. Health of people is also affected when water contaminated with arsenic and arsenic laden pesticides are used on crops. Rice, fish, beer, wine, juices, chicken and poultry are some foods that are high in arsenic.Arsenic 2

Arsenic is used in industries and in orchards. Residents around these areas of human activity need to be extra careful when it comes to arsenic contamination. In orchards the chemical Arsenic is used as a pesticide and also to preserve the woods. Similarly Arsenic can be easily found in paints so if you have a paint factory in your vicinity the water must be checked. Other industries that use this chemical are drugs, soaps and metals. Even waste burning treatment plants can give out arsenic as a waste product. Mining can also release Arsenic into the surrounding areas.

The Sidhwan Canal a distributory of Bhakra Dam running through the city of Ludhiana has been the hub of human activity since ancient times. The channel primarily developed as a source of water for the fields stands gravely polluted in the present times.  Garbage, filth, industrial waste are a common scene in the canal. The residents of the city have risen to the call and are undertaking all feasible efforts to clean the same in order to ensure clean water for the fields. The efforts will also play an instrumental role in improving the quality of groundwater.

Reference: Assessment of arsenic in drinking water samples in south-western districts of Punjab—India, Chetna Sharma, Amita Mahajan & Umesh K. Garg, Desalination and Water Treatment, Volume 51Issue 28-30, 2013