An article in a special water-themed issue of the journal Nature focuses on Islam's work in Bangladesh, where naturally occurring arsenic is poisoning the drinking water of millions of people. (See issue at http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/water/).
Islam and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of British Columbia and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology have been working to solve the problem of mass arsenic poisoning in Islam's native country, Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people in Bangladesh and neighboring areas of West Bengal in India are at risk of increased cancer rates and other health problems caused by arsenic in groundwater drinking supplies.
Tragically, the problem is an unforeseen consequence of shifting Bangladesh from a drinking water supply that used surface water to one that uses groundwater. To prevent the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera and other life-threatening diseases, Bangladesh and international aid agencies installed 6-10 million wells throughout the nation.
Unfortunately, many of these new wells contain unsafe levels of arsenic. While the allowable standard for arsenic in the United States is 50 parts per billion, in many of the Bangladesh wells, arsenic levels reach to 500-1000 parts per billion, with the worst at 2,400 parts per billion. It takes several thousand parts per billion to cause immediate death. The cumulative impact of the tainted water supply, however, can lead to skin cancers and other disorders.
Islam and his colleagues find that these elevated arsenic levels appear to be linked to dry-season irrigation
Contact: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
University of Cincinnati