Arsenic in ground water in six districts of West Bengal, India: the biggest arsenic calamity in the world. Part 2. Arsenic concentration in drinking water, hair, nails, urine, skin-scale and liver tissue (biopsy) of the affected people
In six districts of West Bengal arsenic has been found in ground water above the maximum permissible limit recommended by the WHO of 0.05 mg l–1. This water is used by the villagers for drinking, cooking and other household purposes. These six districts have an area of 34 000 km2 and hold a population of 30 million. Over the last five years we have surveyed only a few small areas of these six affected districts and our survey revealed that, at present, at least 800 000 people from 312 villages in 37 blocks are drinking contaminated water and more than 175 000 people are showing arsenical skin lesions that are the late stages of manifestation of arsenic toxicity. Most of the three stages of arsenic-related clinical manifestations are observed amongst the affected people. The common symptoms are conjunctivitis, melanosis, depigmentation, keratosis and hyperkeratosis; cases of gangrene and malignant neoplasms are also observed. The source of arsenic is geological. We have analysed thousands of arsenic contaminated water samples. Most of the water samples contain a mixture of arsenite and arsenate and in none of them could we detect methylarsonic or dimethylarsinic acid. We have also analysed a large number of urine, hair and nail samples, several skin-scales and some liver tissues (biopsy samples) of the people drinking the arsenic contaminated water and showing arsenical skin lesions. Flow injection hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry (FI-HGAAS) was used for the analysis of hair, nails, urine and skin-scale after decomposition by various techniques. The liver tissues were analysed by Zeeman corrected-ETAAS using a few milligrams of the biopsy samples.