Northern Vietnam drinking water contains dangerous arsenic levels

The drinking water in parts of northern Vietnam is contaminated with arsenic levels 50 times higher than Vietnamese standards, according to a report published in the July 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Although no arsenic-related health problems have been reported there yet, more than 11 million people are potentially exposed to the tainted water, according to Michael Berg, a research team leader from the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology and the Centre of Environmental Chemistry at the Hanoi University of Science. The report is the first scientific evidence identifying previously unknown and potentially hazardous arsenic levels in drinking water pulled from shallow wells in the country, he said

The problem flows largely from "tubewells," which pull water from depths of between approximately 30 feet and 120 feet, according to the researchers. The wells, designed to provide safe drinking water by avoiding polluted surface waters, inadvertently tapped into arsenic-contaminated underground aquifers, Berg said.

Arsenic is found naturally in rocks, soils and the waters in contact with them. Consuming arsenic can cause skin disease, cardiovascular and neurological problems. Long-term exposure has been shown to increase the risk of lung, bladder, liver and prostate cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Measuring the ground (and, in this case, drinking) water in 69 wells over a nearly 500 square mile area in the Red River delta near Hanoi, researchers found average arsenic levels more than three times the nation's 50-microgram per liter health standard with peaks up to 3,000 micrograms per liter in groundwater. Nearly half of the well water samples contained arsenic levels above the standard and approximately 20 percent exceeded 150 micrograms per liter, he reported.

Contact: Beverly Hassell
American Chemical Society

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