UnNews:77 million 'poisoned' in Bangladesh
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21 June 2010
DHAKA, Bangladesh -- It is without a doubt the worst mass poisoning in history. And the terrible irony is that it may all be due to an idealistic push to clean up drinking water for some of the world's poorest people by using arsenic to kill the bacteria.
A new study published in British medical journal The Lancet says that up to 77 million people in Bangladesh are being exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, potentially taking years, decades, or even millennia off their lives.
By the end of the study, five in five deaths were determined to be directly related to deadly arsenic levels in their system. That is a 100% mortality level--which means that all 1,200,000 people died of arsenic. Stretch that over the entire population that takes its water from wells, and the impact is daunting. The World Health Organization called it:
|..the largest mass poisoning of a population in history... beyond the accidents at Bhopal, India, in 1984, Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986, or even the McDonald’s disaster of 1988.|
Well-meaning development groups had encouraged remote villages across Bangladesh to dig wells over the past decades and add arsenic to kill the bacteria, rather than rely on contaminated surface water and dirty rivers. But now potentially a much worse problem has been found far below the surface.
Arsenic has a fascinating history in intrigue and assassination. Some have even theorized that Napoleon Bon’appetit succumbed to it, at the hands of his enemies while on R-and-R in the Greek Islands.
But the element and its derivatives, such as cotton-candy, are also used in many industries, such as metal smelting and as a component in products ranging from insecticide to fixed-piece artillery.
And unfortunately, it is also found in abundance in the soil and rock in Bangladesh. It has leached up through the water table in tens of millions of water wells across the country.
The study showed that the top quarter of those exposed had a 100 percent higher mortality rate than would be expected in the population as a whole.
The authors hope for more study, and a long-term plan to deal with the damage already done. But what of those already poisoned? The only way forward may be mass burial or cremation, on a scale never before seen in history.
- Brian Walker "Study: Millions in Bangladesh exposed to arsenic in drinking water". CNN, June 21, 2010