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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Criminal silence for 3 years!

Detected in '98, two lakh people in C'nawabganj are still drinking arsenic water

The government concealed, for three years, the fact that most people in the Chapainawabganj municipality were drinking arsenic-contaminated water.

In 1998 experts detected more than 0.2mg/L arsenic in water samples taken from deep tube-well in Chapainawabganj. Such a high level of concentration of arsenic can cause various deadly diseases, leading to cancer even.

Of 200,500 people in the municipality, more than 140,000 use contaminated water.

Detection of such a high level of arsenic in water of the municipality pipelines, the first time in the country, was kept confidential until early this year.

"We came to know about it only in February this year," Moinuddin Mondal, chairman of the municipality, said. "We are very frightened."

"Since the fact came to light, we have shut down two deep tube-wells," he added, "but we still drink from seven others. Water from those tube-wells have also shown presence of arsenic at more than the acceptable level."

Seven out of the total 16 deep tube-wells in the municipality, which supply water through the pipelines, are contaminated with arsenic above the permissible level of 0.05mg/L.

Of the rest, two deep tube-wells, which draws water from between 200 and 400 feet deep aquifers, have been recently sealed off. Arsenic level of more than one mg/L was detected after several tests carried out by the authorities concerned.

It is worth mentioning that the first hand pump tube-well to be identified having arsenic above the acceptable level was found in the Chaipainawabganj municipal area in Rajarampur back in 1996.

Information about contamination of the municipal supply water was disclosed to this correspondent yesterday. Until now information about the toxicity was kept 'confidential.'

Mondal, who wrote to the Prime Minister in February last for her personal attention in this regard, also said, "The situation is quite alarming. Since knowing about it we are doing our best to find out alternatives."

A Japanese team (JAICA) is now in Chaipainawabganj to find possible solutions to the problem and they are working with the local public health engineers, Mondal informed.

The affected areas include Namangshukaraboti, Nakhrajpara, Durgapur, Kathalbagicha, Haluabandha, Nayansukla and Chandlai.

When contacted, Ihtishamul Haq, executive engineer, Research and Development Division of the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE), admitted that people were drinking arsenic-contaminated water from pipeline water system since 1998. "Yes, its true that water in the pipeline system has arsenic more than the acceptable level. In fact, the level as we measured is 0.2 mg/L in the deep tube-wells."

Haq also said that a Japanese expert visited the spot last week to find solutions.

In the meantime, DPHE has been experimenting with a home-based arsenic removal plant using two-bucket ferric-chloride combination in one of the municipal areas for a year now, he revealed.

Mondal also mentioned that there are 347 hand-pumped tube-wells within the municipal areas operated both at the public and private levels. Out of these, 299 (86 per cent) are contaminated with arsenic above the acceptable level. Laboratory tests show the majority of the wells are quite badly affected.

DHPE experts also said that there are two options for the municipal, one is to treat Mahananda river water or remove arsenic d irectly from the source of the tube-wells.

At least one hundred municipalities out of a total of 224 get drinking water through pipeline system in the country.

The US$44 million Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project (BAMWSP), financed by the World Bank and Swiss Development Co-operation and implemented by the local government division, is yet to test water supplied by the municipalities.

In the meantime, the DPHE detected low level of arsenic in Faridpur pipeline water system, which is treated automatically by iron removal plant, installed there a year back.

The local government and rural development and co-operative minister could not be contacted for comment after several attempts. ( The Daily Star )

Copyright 1998 Global Amitech


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