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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Arsenic may intoxicate food grains, vegetables

Experts warn

As Bangladesh is struggling to mitigate arsenic toxicity in drinking water with nearly 80 million people feared to be exposed to the aquifer contamination, international experts on Sunday said the toxic element was also likely to affect the food chain, reports BSS.

"Arsenic not only can contaminate water, but also intoxicate soil and crops and consequently endanger the human and animal health," Dr Ravi Naidu of Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation (CSIRO) told an expert group meeting in Dhaka.

He added that rice, flour, potato and vegetables were among others crops to ingest arsenic as found in studies in other countries including the United States.

Some Bangladeshi agriculturists earlier said they detected arsenic on paddy husks but the toxic element could not be found in the grain.

Agriculture Secretary Dr Shoaib Ahmed, chief engineer of Department of Public Health Engineering Quadiruzzaman and UNICEF representative Shahida Azfar, among others, joined the two-day UNICEF sponsored expert conference titled "Arsenic, Nutrition and Food Chain."

The agriculture secretary said no extensive studies were yet to be carried out if the arsenic in aquifer had any affect on crops as all concerned still concentrated their attention on drinking water.

He said such studies were urgently needed for finding solutions to maintain the crop quality and production level since Bangladesh now achieved self-sufficiency in food.

Professor John Duxbury of Cornell University said scientific evidences were increasing that arsenic could accumulate in crops with root crops like potatoes being more vulnerable to the toxicity.

"If we remove arsenic from drinking water, we should (also) establish the other roots (sources) of exposure including food that does not create a problem," he said calling for launching studies of arsenic toxicity in food chain in Bangladesh.

He, however, added that until today many experts thought arsenic intake through food was not a major problem since the toxic element would show its presence in crops by killing the plant itself before contaminating, particularly the rice grain.

Explaining the arsenic situation in Bangladesh, Colin Davis of UNICEF said the country was yet to look for arsenic patients under the existing health system though some 80 million of the country's 120 million people were feared to be exposed to arsenicosis.

"Many of these 80 million people are likely to be suffering from arsenicosis awaiting diagnosis," he said.

Collin called the current process of testing tubewells to be "painfully slow" as less than 1.5 million of the estimated 5-10 million tubewells had so far been tested.

On possible presence of arsenic in food chain, he said although "it might be painful, we need to know if arsenic was really affecting the crops."

Kayode Oyegbite, a public health expert of the UNICEF, however, said the studies which so far found arsenic in crops were carried out in the other countries and therefore, Bangladesh need not be worried until scientific studies showed such outcome. (BSS)

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