GUWAHATI, Sept 5 � In the backdrop of high rate of prevalence of cancer cases in the State, arsenic contamination of its drinking water is causing a serious concern among the health and drinking water experts here. Arsenic is a dreaded cancer-causing toxic element.
It needs mention here that the groundwater in 19 of the 27 districts of the State are found to be contaminated by arsenic. Significantly, samples only of the Government groundwater sources in 76 of the total 219 development blocks of the State have been tested to determine their arsenic contamination.
If the private groundwater sources in all the development blocks, along with the Government groundwater sources in the rest of the development blocks, are covered by a screening drive to determine the exact size of arsenic contamination of the State�s groundwater, the picture may become more grim, said noted drinking water expert AB Paul.
Paul, a former chief engineer of the State�s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), who first detected fluoride and arsenic contamination of the State�s groundwater, respectively about 15 years and about eleven years back, is working for mitigation of the menace created by both fluoride and arsenic contamination of drinking water.
Significantly, Kamrup (Metro) District has recorded the highest number of female hypo-pharyngeal cancer cases in the world. The district has also recorded the second highest number of cases of male tongue cancer in the country as well as in the world.
It has recorded the third highest number of female esophageal cancer cases in the world and fourth highest number of cases of male esophageal cancer cases in the world, said Dr Arundhati Deka, Deputy Director of the State Health Department, quoting a survey report of the B Barooah Cancer Institute, submitted to the Health Department in June this year.
Paul said that going by the statistics, the arsenic-related problem in Assam is more serious compared to West Bengal. In West Bengal, out of the 19 districts, eight are affected by the problem, while in Assam, 19 of the 27 districts are affected by the problem.
In the State, of the total 56, 180 groundwater samples tested in a three-tier system during the past few years, under a joint plan of action by the State PHED, UNICEF and the IIT Guwahati, 7.95 per cent of the samples were found to be containing over 50 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic and 29.75 per cent were found to be containing over 10 ppb arsenic. The 50 ppb is the Government of India norm, while 10 ppb is the World Health Organisation (WHO) norm for determining safe drinking water in the case of arsenic, Paul said.
In the State, he said 1970 villages have their groundwater contaminated by the presence of over 50 ppb arsenic. The population at risk is 7, 22, 603. The number of schools in the State with their water sources affected by arsenic contamination is 794.
But the matter of concern here is that there is no serious effort at any level whatsoever to undertake serious research works to mitigate this menace in the State, unlike in Bangladesh and West Bengal, Paul said.