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August 2018, Volume 68, Issue 8

Student's Corner

Groundwater contamination and the risk of arsenic poisoning in Pakistan - Letter to the Editor

Fahad Hassan Shaikh  ( Dow Medical College, Karachi )
Ammar Salman Syed  ( Dow Medical College, Karachi )
Abdur Rehman  ( Dow Medical College, Karachi )


Arsenic is a heavy metal found in combination with many minerals. It can leach into groundwater from adjacent rocks and soil. Recent studies 1 show that there is increasing groundwater arsenic contamination in large areas of the Indus plain in Pakistan, with levels increasing to more than 50 micrograms per litre, much higher than the World Health Organisation\\\'s guideline of 10 micrograms per litre. This arsenic can enter the general population via direct consumption of contaminated water, or through its use in the agricultural industry. Rice (a staple diet in Pakistan) shows accumulation of high levels of arsenic.2 Similar groundwater contamination in the 1990s occurred in Bangladesh and India. This contamination is the basis of the fact that of the 200 million people exposed to over 10 micrograms per litre of arsenic, most reside in Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, and India.
Arsenic can have significant carcinogenic effects, including skin, lung and bladder carcinoma, on both chronic and acute exposure.3 It has also been associated with cardiac and neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as new studies associating it with diabetes mellitus.2 Studies assessing the risk of these effects have been carried out in Iran,4 and we believe that similar studies should be conducted to further investigate these effects in Pakistan, in light of the increasing arsenic contamination. Studies on the amount of groundwater contamination have been conducted, but studies to assess the effects of this rapidly increasing contamination in the affected region of Punjab have not been conducted recently. Lessening rice consumption could also be useful in reducing these negative effects, but considering how it is a major dietary source, this approach likely would not have much effect. Certain microbes5 (Streptomyces, Rhobdococcus, etc) can reduce the uptake of heavy metals, such as arsenic, by rice and other plants. Cultivation of rice aerobically, and use of certain fertilizers such as silicon, can also be used to reduce the arsenic accumulation in rice. Reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, or ion exchange can be used to remove arsenic from water meant for human consumption. We suggest the government implement the aforementioned measures to protect the populace.

Disclaimer: None to declare.
Conflict of Interest: None to declare.
Funding Sources: None to declare.


1.  Podgorski JE, Eqani S, Khanam T, Ullah R, Shen H, Berg M. Extensive arsenic contamination in high-pH unconfined aquifers in the Indus Valley. Sci Adv 2017; 3: e1700935.
2.  Hassan F I, Niaz K, Khan F, Maqbool F, Abdollahi M. The relation between rice consumption, arsenic contamination, and prevalence of diabetes in South Asia. EXCLI J 2017; 16: 1132-43.
3.  Hong Y, Song K, Chung J. Health Effects of Chronic Arsenic Exposure. J Prev Med Public Health 2014; 47: 245-52.
4.  Sadeghi F, Nasseri S, Yunsian M, Nabizadeh R, Mosaferi M, Mesdaghinia A. Carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risk assessments of arsenic contamination in drinking water of Ardabil city in the Northwest of Iran. J Environ Sci Health ATox Hazard Subst Environ Eng 2018; 53: 421-9
5.  Chibuike G U, Obiora S C. Heavy Metal Polluted Soils: Effect on Plants and Bioremediation Methods. Appl Environ Soil Sci. 2014; 2014: 752708. 

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