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Groundwater Arsenic Contamination in the Middle-Gangetic Plain, Bihar (India): The Danger Arrived

Author Affiliations

  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Studies, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ 07043, USA

Int. Res. J. Environment Sci., Volume 4, Issue (2), Pages 70-76, February,22 (2015)

Abstract

This study presents a review of the arsenic contamination of drinking water, soil, and the food chain in the Middle-Gangetic Plain in India’s Bihar state. We identify challenges for arsenic-mitigation and recommend solutions for this problem. Approximately 46% of the geographical regions, 72 of 532 community blocks, are arsenic contaminated. More than 10 million people in rural Bihar are exposed to elevated levels of arsenic through naturally contaminated drinking water. Arsenic levels exceed the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s standards for irrigation water. Arsenic contamination in soil and in the food chain could be potential threats to the area’s inhabitants. Children are exposed to arsenic contaminated soil while playing in their backyards. Children who do not wash their hands thoroughly may unintentionally ingest soil, which over the long term may increase the risk of developing cancer. People with several stages of arsenicosis symptoms and suspected arsenic-induced cancers were found in the state. Recently discovered arsenic contaminated areas in Bihar are far from the River Ganges, which suggests that other River basins, such as the River Ghaghara and Gandak, are potential sources of arsenic. Katihar was the most vulnerable district because of the socioeconomic and biophysical conditions, followed by Vaishali, Samastipur, Khagaria, and Purnia. Munger was the only resilient district, as it had a greater adaptive capacity. Some of the foremost challenges of arsenic-mitigation are lack of guidelines for water sampling density, a common arsenic contamination data repository, coordination among research groups, and decision-making tools for arsenic-mitigation; uncontrolled and unregulated hand pump installations, and wide spatial variation in arsenic concentrations distribution. The state needs comprehensive arsenic-mitigation policies and decision-making tools to help prioritize, which arsenic contaminated areas to pursue. A decision-making tool, such as a composite vulnerability framework for assessing and mapping vulnerability to groundwater arsenic contamination, would be an absolute necessity.

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