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Arsenic exposure remains hot issue

Arsenic exposure remains hot issue

NEW government figures indicate up to 150,000 people living along the Mekong and Bassac rivers are consuming water from wells laced with arsenic, a poison that can cause skin and other cancers after prolonged exposure.

The figures, prepared by the Department of Water Supply at the Ministry of Rural Development, indicate that the problem is less widespread than officials believed after the April 2009 publication of a study estimating that up to 2 million people were at risk.

Mao Saray, the department’s director, said the figures were finalised at a workshop late last month attended by government officials and representatives of UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and other groups.

“It is estimated that approximately 100,000 to 150,000 people are consuming arsenic-contaminated drinking water for at least part of the year,” he said. Residents of Kandal, Prey Veng and Kampong Cham provinces were at the highest risk of exposure, whereas residents of Kampong Chhnang, Kratie and Kampong Thom provinces were at moderate risk, he said.

He said that in many areas contaminated water was only being used for cleaning and bathing.

The April 2009 figures, prepared by Resource Development International Cambodia and Dartmouth College in the United States, indicated that as many as 100,000 residents of Kandal province alone were being exposed to arsenic. Andrew Shantz, laboratory and research director for RDIC, said data from the 2008 census as well as the establishment of a national database listing arsenic concentrations in 40,000 wells had led to new figures.

A report released in May by three US scientists said more than 100 million people were exposed to arsenic-contaminated drinking water daily in Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam, resulting in thousands of deaths from cancer each year.

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