Thursday, August 29, 2013

China's arsenic contamination risk is assessed

Rebecca Morelle in the BBC: Nearly 20 million people in China could be exposed to water contaminated with arsenic, a study suggests. Scientists used information about the geology of the country to predict the areas most likely to be affected by the poison.

...Arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth's crust, but if it leaches into groundwater, long-term exposure can cause serious health risks. These include skin problems and cancers of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.

Until now, estimating the scale of arsenic contamination in large countries has been difficult. China is thought to have more than 10 million drinking wells, and each needs to be screened to establish whether any toxic compounds are present. This process could take decades.

Instead, researchers from Switzerland and China looked at geological maps of the country. Dr Annette Johnson, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) and a co-author of the study, explained: "In the last few years the amount of geospatial information - electronic maps - that's become available is large. You have information such as climate data, land use, and distance to the river or elevation."

Using this information, and by looking at the types of rocks present in the country, and in particular their age, the researchers pinpointed the regions where the toxic element is most likely to be found....

Arsenic from the periodic table, created by Schnee, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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