Magnitude of Arsenic Toxicity in Tube-well Drinking Water in Bangladesh and Its Adverse Effects on Human Health Including Cancer: Evidence from a Review of the Literature


Only after a decade from 1993, arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh has been reported as the ‍biggest arsenic catastrophe in the world. It is a burning public health issue in this country. More than 50 percent of ‍the total population is estimated at risk of contamination. Already thousands of people have been affected by the ‍disease arsenicosis. Many more may be on the way to manifest lesions in future. We conducted a review of previous ‍studies and published articles including MEDLINE database on this issue. We found that 59 districts out of 64 have ‍been already affected by arsenic in underground drinking water, where this particular source of drinking water is ‍the main source for 97 percent of the rural people. The water is unfortunately now a great threat for the human ‍being due to high level of arsenic. Continuous arsenic exposure can lead people to develop arsenicosis, which in turn ‍elevates the risk of cancer. Skin lesions are the most common manifestations in arsenicosis patients. Relatively poor ‍rural people and other socio-economically disadvantaged groups are more affected by this exposure. Until now ‍cancer patients have been relatively limited in Bangladesh. One of the reasons may be that several years are needed ‍to show cancer manifestations from the beginning of arsenic exposure. But it is suspected that after some years a ‍large number of patients will appear with cancer in different sites for arsenic exposure in drinking water. Various ‍studies have been conducted in arsenic affected countries - notably in Argentina, Chile, China, Japan, and Taiwan - ‍to find the potential of arsenic exposure to cause development of cancer. Among the arsenic related cancers, liver, ‍lung, skin, bladder and kidney cancers are reported to be prevalent in these countries. Unfortunately no scientific ‍study has been yet conducted in Bangladesh to find the relationship between arsenic exposure and cancers in different ‍sites of the body. So our aim is to conduct an ecological as well as a case-control study in the country in the future. ‍