Arsenic poisoning in drinking water threatens 60 million in Pakistan

Arsenic poisoning in drinking water threatens 60 million in Pakistan

Drinking arsenic water increases skin disorders, lung cancer, abnormal heart rhythms and even death

A comprehensive research study reveals that the Levels of arsenic in the groundwater of eastern Pakistan are “alarmingly high”.

Arsenic in drinking water threatens up to 60 million in Pakistan, which might affect a significant health of people who drink the water, researchers said Wednesday.

The study research has been published in the Journal Science Advances is the first to create a complete map of arsenic in the groundwater across Pakistan, and follows earlier, smaller studies that showed high arsenic levels in some places.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element sometimes found in soil. Experts say levels of the pollutant along the Indus River are much higher than the levels determined safe by the World Health Organization.

Groundwater samples were taken from nearly 1,200 sites throughout the country, and researchers used a model to project the likelihood of increased arsenic concentrations for all of Pakistan.


Overall, 50 to 60 million people use groundwater which very likely contains more than 50 micrograms per litre, or five times higher than WHO guidelines.

“This is an alarmingly high number, which demonstrates the urgent need to test all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain,” said lead author Joel Podgorski, a geophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology.

People who regularly drink water with high concentrations of arsenic face a higher risk of skin disorders, lung cancer, abnormal heart rhythms and even death. There’s no cure for arsenic poisoning.

“This new study contributes information on the causes and extent of arsenic contamination that will be useful for Pakistan as well as for the broader water sector,” said Dr Rick Johnston from the WHO.

Researchers are not sure why the arsenic in Pakistan is so high, but one hypothesis is that heavy irrigation could be boosting the arsenic level in groundwater.

Pakistan has been struggling to provide clean water access. A 2016 survey of almost 3,000 water sources in the country found around 70% to 80% of them contained water that was contaminated or unsafe for drinking.

About Saqlain Naqvi

Saqlain Naqvi is an Islamabad-based journalist who has also worked in PR sector previously.
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