Decontamination plants installed at wells throughout West Bengal are failing to reduce arsenic in local drinking water to safe levels,
according to a report published this month in Environmental Science & Technology.
Chakraborti's team monitored 18 of 2,000 decontamination plants made by 11 different manufacturers in India, Germany and the United States, and installed at wells in West Bengal. According to their results, none of them reduced arsenic to levels the World Health Organization considers safe. The findings come as a blow to efforts to address what has been called the worst mass poisoning in history, in which millions of people were exposed to dangerous or fatal levels of arsenic in their water.
Eighty per cent of local villagers had abnormal levels of arsenic in their urine.
Chakraborti believes that efforts should now focus on harnessing and purifying surface water. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which initiated and funded the original well-drilling programme, supports the approach. “We’re really pushing for rainwater harvesting,” says UNICEF emergencies coordinator Paula Plaza. However, there are now plans to test arsenic removal plants more thoroughly before they are licensed for use. A Canadian company called the Ontario Center for Environmental Technology Advancement is collaborating with the Bangladeshi government to develop performance standards for these systems.
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