Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Climate crisis to increase cancer risk for millions in Bangladesh

  • 78 million people in Bangladesh are exposed to arsenic
  • First case of chronic arsenic poisoning was reported in 1993
Update : 19 Jan 2024, 10:35 PM

Researchers have predicted that tens of millions of people in Bangladesh will be at heightened risk of cancer from contaminated well water due to the climate crisis.

The rising sea level, floods, and extreme climate shifts are set to accelerate the release of dangerous levels of arsenic into Bangladesh’s drinking water, reports The Guardian.

Researchers have also indicated that the consequence will be an exacerbation of an ongoing public health crisis in the country, where millions suffer from skin, bladder, and lung cancers due to arsenic poisoning.

During a recent presentation of the study, which was published in the journal “Plos One” on Wednesday, the lead researcher, Dr Seth Frisbie, said chronic arsenic poisoning from drinking water is a real problem and “not a theoretical exercise.”

He added that he once walked into a village in Bangladesh where no one was over 30 years old.

Frisbie, also an emeritus professor of chemistry at Norwich University, explained that arsenic is naturally occurring and washed down the sediments from the Himalayan uplift. “So all the sediments from the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Irrawaddy, [and] Mekong river basins are rich in naturally occurring arsenic.”

“It wasn’t a problem when people drank surface water, because the surface water is in communication with the oxygen in the atmosphere and that makes the arsenic insoluble and removes it from the water. However, the deep-well water does not communicate as well with the oxygen in the atmosphere. And that’s why, all of a sudden, giving people access to these deep water wells has been a tremendous public health crisis,” he added during the presentation.

Frisbie also estimated that about 78 million people in Bangladesh are exposed to arsenic, and about 900,000 may die from lung and bladder cancer.


Signs of arsenic in the body

Long-term exposure to arsenic results in the accumulation of this toxic substance within the bodies of affected individuals.

Externally, it becomes evident through the hardening of the skin on the palms and soles of the feet, known as keratinization.

Internally, similar processes take place, leading to the deposition of arsenic in the lungs and other organs, ultimately contributing to cancer.


First arsenic case

The first case of chronic arsenic poisoning from drinking well water was diagnosed in Bangladesh in 1993, a situation later labelled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the "largest mass poisoning of a population in history."

Later, to give people clean water for homes, farming, and fish farming, groups like the UN and NGOs dug many deep tube wells. These new wells helped lower the number of kids getting ill from waterborne diseases.

However, in the 1990s, it was discovered that the water from underground rocks in Bangladesh had a lot of natural arsenic, which is dangerous.

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