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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 74  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 582--593

Epidemiology and prevention of chronic arsenicosis: An Indian perspective

1 Department of Community Medicine, Medical College, Kolkata-700 073, India
2 State Water Investigation Directorate, Govt. of West Bengal, India
3 Department of Dermatology, Medical College, Kolkata-700 073, India
4 Dept. of Dermatology, IPGMER and SSKM Hospital, Kolkata-700 020, India

Correspondence Address:
Nilay Kanti Das
Devitala Road, Majerpara, Ishapore-743 144
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0378-6323.45099

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Arsenicosis is a global problem but the recent data reveals that Asian countries, India and Bangladesh in particular, are the worst sufferers. In India, the state of West Bengal bears the major brunt of the problem, with almost 12 districts presently in the grip of this deadly disease. Recent reports suggest that other states in the Ganga/Brahmaputra plains are also showing alarming levels of arsenic in ground water. In West Bengal, the majority of registered cases are from the district of Nadia, and the maximum number of deaths due to arsenicosis is from the district of South 24 Paraganas. The reason behind the problem in India is thought to be mainly geogenic, though there are instances of reported anthropogenic contamination of arsenic from industrial sources. The reason for leaching of arsenic in ground water is attributed to various factors, including excessive withdrawal of ground water for the purpose of irrigation, use of bio-control agents and phosphate fertilizers. It remains a mystery why all those who are exposed to arsenic-contaminated water do not develop the full-blown disease. Various host factors, such as nutritional status, socioeconomic status, and genetic polymorphism, are thought to make a person vulnerable to the disease. The approach to arsenicosis mitigation needs be holistic, sustainable, and multidisciplinary, with the 2 main pillars being health education and provision of 'arsenic-free water.' In the state of West Bengal, the drive for arsenic mitigation has been divided into 3 phases using various methods, including new hand pumps/tube wells at alternative deep aquifers, dug wells, arsenic removal plants, arsenic treatment units, as well as piped and surface water supply schemes. The methods have their own limitations, so it is intended that a pragmatic approach be followed in the arsenicosis prevention drive. It is also intended that the preventive measures be operationally and economically feasible for the people living in the affected areas.


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