Paper No. 24
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM
EMPOWERING LOCAL VILLAGERS FROM WEST BENGAL TO UNDERSTAND THE EXTENT OF ARSENIC CONTAMINATION AND LOCATE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS
Arsenic contamination in drinking water poses a threat to more than 75 million people in a water stressed area of the Bengal Delta. In an area of illiteracy, poverty and neglect, this mass contamination of drinking water supplies makes up one of the worst environmental mass-poisonings in human history. Water from tube wells, irrigation wells, ponds and shallow aquifer sediment samples were collected from four villages in Murshidabad, West Bengal, India, in January 2012. The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between sediment and water chemistry to understand the extent of As contamination in the groundwater in these four villages, which are home to some of the highest known As occurrences in the Bengal Delta. Our objectives were to identify future drilling sites of low As, educate local villagers on the issue of where not to drill and establish a relationship with them to improve upon the problems they face to acquire alternative solutions. High As is associated with gray, reduced sediments, whereas low As is associated with orange-brown, oxidized sands. Color identification and grain size is a simple test to teach locals how to identify high or low As bearing sediments. The platform of the tube wells is stained red where high As groundwater is present. Data was collected on household size, number of occupants drinking from each such tube well, age and depth of tube well, proximity of tubewells to ponds and sewage outputs from households to see the extent of the problem from one family to another and to understand why only a few members from each family are affected. We also interviewed villagers drinking from low As sources in similar size villages. Villagers were eager to show the effect of skin lesions caused from As poisoning and are desperate for a solution. We trained them in the science of detecting As and testing of other water quality parameters that can relate to find As in newly-drilled wells in the locality. Using onsite test kits, we identified areas of high As, warned owners in their villages of the As concentration and recommended alternative locations for safer drinking water. Along with scientific research in the area, we are empowering adults and children in the villages to become knowledgeable about arsenic contamination and the steps they can take to avoid the situation on their own.