GUWAHATI, Nov 28 - A team of health workers, Public Health Engineering Department officials, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) workers and NGO activists today visited the Besimari Madhya Chupa near Kaithalkuchi Railway Station under Madhupur Development Block of Nalbari district, from where reports of some suspected cases of arsenicosis have been received. The team was led by renowned arsenicosis expert Dr Kunalkanti Majumdar of the KPC Medical College, Kolkata, well-known cancer expert Dr Ashok Ghosh of the Mahavir Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Patna and distinguished public health engineer A B Paul.
The physicians tested the health condition of ten persons at the village and found six suspected cases of arsenicosis. The hair and nail samples of the six persons, who have been suspected to be suffering from this dreaded disease, have been collected and sent to the Mahavir Cancer Institute, Patna for clinical confirmation, said AB Paul.
The exercise was organised by the India Natural Resource Economics and Management (INREM) Foundation under its Safe Water Centre for Healthy Assam (SWaCHA) programme.
The experts advised the residents of the village to collect water only from the ponds, which are meant for drinking water purposes to avoid arsenic contamination of their drinking water. The villagers should also initiate moves for rainwater harvesting as part of a social movement to prevent arsenicosis and fluorosis etc diseases caused by chemical contamination of the groundwater which they are now using as their drinking water.
The SWaCHA yesterday held a sensitisation workshop on arsenic in drinking water and its manifestation on health at Nalbari.
Fluorosis and arsenicosis are the two man-made hazards and these can be best prevented by going back to the practice of surface water consumption.
Moreover, high protein consumption is another weapon to ward off adverse impacts of arsenic on the human body. These were the opinions expressed by experts who deliberated at a two-day sensitisation workshop organised by the Safer Water Centre for Healthy Assam (SWaCHA) on, ‘Arsenic in Drinking Water and its Manifestations on Health’ at Nalbari on Monday.
Taking part in the programme, former Chief Engineer of the State’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), who led to the discovery of fluoride and arsenic contamination of groundwater in several areas of the State, said, “The solutions were Tripura filter ... Another solution is the rural sanitary mart, which produce low-cost candles and filters. The other solutions are KAF and electrolytic treatment of arsenic and the use of arsenic-eating bacteria. Moving back to consuming surface water was also suggested as a way of arsenic mitigation. Apart from these, pond water can also be used through slow sand filters on the bank.”
Dr Kunalkanti Majumdar of the KPC Medical College, Kolkata, physician of repute in the area of arsenic poisoning and arsenicosis, spoke about the medical management and identification of health effects of arsenic.
“Arsenic can enter our bodies through air (dust from mines), water, food, soil etc. A person can be tested for arsenic poisoning through his/her urine (recent exposure) or hair and nails (past exposure),’ he said.
He maintained that there are many dangers of arsenic poisoning such as arsenicosis that can lead to cancer of the lung, blood and skin. Pregnant women,who are exposed to arsenic are at risk of giving birth to still-born babies.
A person affected by arsenicosis may have melanosis or keratosis. The symptoms range from raindrop like pigmentation, thickening of skin on palms and feet, chronic cough, weakness to sores in fingers of hand or feet. Arsenicosis symptoms are always symmetric (both hands and both feet). If the cases are detected early and the symptoms are also found to be very initial, then the condition can be reversed to some extent, he said.
But he maintained that the common drugs for mitigation of arsenic poisoning are not very effective, and those that are effective are very expensive. A high protein diet is recommended to help ward off the affects of arsenic, he asserted.
Cancer expert Dr Ashok Ghosh from the Mahavir Cancer Institute and Research Centre in Patna spoke about the relationship between arsenic poisoning and cancer. He maintained that arsenic exposure may lead to increase in cancer, heart disease and several other health problems. The cause that has led to this problem is the change in technology in drinking water, from surface water to groundwater.
Arsenic in the water tables of the Himalayan foothill areas originate from the Himalayas. The rivers flowing from the Himalayas bring arsenic with their loads of silt.
In many parts of the globe, geogenic factors are responsible for the presence of arsenic in groundwater etc, but sometimes anthropogenic factors are found responsible for it.
In 2003, it was thought that arsenic was a problem only in one district of Bihar (Bhojpur). But now, it is found that groundwater in 18 districts of this State has arsenic contamination.
The symptoms of arsenic contamination start surfacing after three to four years of consumption, and its related cancer surfaces after six to seven years. Hence, sometimes it is too late to treat the problem. Thus, we cannot wait for the symptoms. If a source of water is tested positive for arsenic, people must stop consuming water from it, said Dr Ghosh.
The programme ended with a lively discussion among the experts and the participants which included physicians, public health engineers, NGO activists and mediapersons, among others.