U.S. Water News Online
LONDON -- Arsenic in drinking water is a global threat to
health, affecting more than 70 countries and 137 million people,
according to new research.
Large numbers of people are unknowingly exposed to unsafe levels
of arsenic in their drinking water, said Peter Ravenscroft, of the
Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He made his
remarks at an annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in
The country worst affected is Bangladesh, where hundreds of
thousands of people are likely to die from cancers of the lung,
bladder and skin caused by arsenic, the research said.
Arsenic, which is odorless and tasteless, enters water supplies
from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and
World Health Organization guidelines set a safe limit of 10 parts
per billion of arsenic in water supplies, but 137 million people
drink water with levels higher than that -- and 57 million drink
water with a level of more than 50 ppb, according to the research.
Arsenic poses long-term health risks "exceeding every other
potential water contaminant," according to research presented by
Allan Smith of the University of California, Berkeley, an adviser to
the WHO on arsenic.
"Most countries have some water sources with dangerous levels of
arsenic, but only now are we beginning to recognize the magnitude of
the problem," Smith said. "It is the most dangerous contaminant of
drinking water in terms of long-term health risks, and we must test
all water sources worldwide as soon as possible."
Speakers at the conference predicted that new arsenic pollution
would occur in parts of southeast and southwest Asia, the western
parts of South and Central America, and some areas in Africa.
Arsenic has been found in water in the north of England, the
Midlands and mid-Wales. But Ravenscroft said there was no major
health risk in Britain and that tests carried out by water companies
meant that public water supplies in this country were still safe to
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