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Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh

Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

1. Introduction:

Extensive Arsenic contamination of the groundwater in the alluvial

aquifers of Bangladesh is probably the worst case of water pollution in
the present time. Recent study reported that out of 64 districts,
drinking water in 61 districts are contaminated by arsenic though the
percentage of the tubewells contaminated vary from 90% to less then
5%, exceeding the Bangladesh standard limit of 0.05 mg/l. About 30
million people are either directly or indirectly exposed to arsenic
contamination with varying degrees of risk. Experts have put forward
several hypotheses regarding the causes of the arsenic contamination.
Domestic water supply and irrigated agriculture in Bangladesh is
heavily dependent on the use of groundwater. Several options are
under active consideration to mitigate the arsenic contamination in the
drinking water supply. The arsenic contamination of groundwater and
its implications on human health are most important issues to be
considered for the future development of groundwater resources in
Bangladesh. Heavy withdrawal of groundwater for irrigation, industry
and domestic use needs to be managed in an integrated manner along
with the surface water for the sustainable development of both
surfaces and groundwater in this country. The paper reviews the state
of arsenic contamination and mitigation measures in Bangladesh.

2. Coastal zone (CZ) of Bangladesh:

The landmass of Bangladesh is connected to the Indian Ocean through a 700 km, long
coastline. The coastal zone is marked by a vast network of river systems, an ever dynamic
estuary, a drainage path of a huge basin covering also parts of India, Nepal, Bhutan and
China and a saline waterfront penetrating inland from the sea.

The boundaries of a coastal area change over time for management purposes, as the
issues to be forged become more extensive or complex and require more far-ranging
solutions. Coastal zone recognized administrative boundaries in Bangladesh. The coastal
zone represents an area of transition where terrestrial and marine environments interact to
form unique environmental conditions.

The coastal zone (CZ) covers 19 districts facing or having proximity to the Bay of Bengal
and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Barguna Feni Satkhira

Barisal Jhalakhati Shariatpur
Bagerhat Khulna Gopalgonj
Bhola Lakshipur Jessor
Chittagong Noakhali Narail
Cox’s Bazar Pirojpur
Chandpur Patuakhali
Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

Total Bangladesh area is 147,570 Km2 of which 47,203 Km2 falls under coastal zone. This
is roughly 32% of the whole country. According to 2001 census, total population of
Bangladesh is 123,151,246 of which 34,846,215 live in coastal area. This is
approximately 28% of the total population of Bangladesh. The national population
density of Bangladesh is 861/Km2 whereas; population density in the coastal area is
959/Km2. From 1901, coastal population increases in following manner:

Year Population
1901 7.2 million
1991 24 million
1998 32 million
2001 34 million
2050 50 million (projected)

Fig-1: Map of the coastal zone of Bangladesh

3. Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh:

Arsenic contaminated groundwaters have emerged as a catastrophic

problem across much of Bangladesh. Specifically in the coastal zone,

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

arsenic levels in tubewell water ranges from “clean” to some of the

highest known concentrations.
There are 12 district with high % of arsenic concentration, of which 7
are in coastal zone: chandpur(90%), Gopalgonj(79%), Noakhali(69%),
Satkhira(67%), Saritpur(65%), Bagerhat(60%), and Laxmipur(56%).
There are 12 district with less problem arsenic, three of which are
located in the coastal zone: Barguna(0%), Patuakhali(0%), and Cox’s-

High levels of arsenic in groundwater used for drinking and cooking

water cause serious human health problems over time (5 to 15 years).
The problem is acute for tubewells abstracting groundwater from
depths betweens 10 and 100 m depth in the southeast, south central
(northern part only) and southwest regions. The most seriously
affected areas are chandpur and surrounding districts.

Table-1: Arsenic contamination area of coastal zone of Bangladesh

Total number of Districts of Bangladesh 64

Coastal Districts of Bangladesh 19
Total Area of Bangladesh 147,570km2
Coastal area of Bangladesh 47,203 Km2
Total population of Bangladesh 123,151,246
Coastal population of Bangladesh 34,846,215
Population density of Bangladesh 861/Km2
Population density of Coastal zone of Bangladesh 959
Highly arsenic affected district of Bangladesh 12
Highly arsenic affected district in coastal zone of 7
Less arsenic affected district of Bangladesh 12
Less arsenic affected district in coastal zone of 3

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

Fig-2: Arsenic Crisis Map of Bangladesh

4. World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking-water quality:

The WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality are intended as a basis for the
development of national standards in the context of national environmental, social,
economic and cultural conditions. The last edition of WHO guidelines for drinking water
quality (1993) established 0.01 mg/l as a provisional guideline value for arsenic in
drinking water.

WHO has had a public position on arsenic in drinking water since 1958 when the first
version of International Standards for Drinking-Water was published. In this instance the
term "standards" was used to be applied to the suggested criteria of water quality. It
established 0.20 mg/l as an allowable concentration in the category of toxic substances
which, if present in drinking-water supplies at concentrations above certain levels, may
give rise to actual danger to health. The updated standards set the maximum permissible
limit of arsenic in drinking water for Bangladesh and India as 0.05 mg/L.

35. Origin and Causes of Arsenic in Groundwater aquifer in
A number of causal explanations for the occurrence of arsenic in groundwater have been
considered. Broadly, they fall in two categories:

 Anthropogenic, i.e., human-induced causes, and

 Natural, geologic causes

5.1 Anthropogenic or human-induced causes:

Human induced causes include diverse sources of arsenic contamination such as

agrochemicals, preservative treated Rural Electrification Board (REB) power poles,
industrial wastes, mining and mineral processing, lower aeration beneath irrigated lands,
and phosphate fertilizers.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

• Agrochemicals: Arsenic can be present in pesticides, insecticides and herbicides

as well as can occur in fertilizers as impurities. Agrochemicals can be point
sources of localized pollution. But, they cannot possibly give rise to the large-
scale contamination as in the case of Bangladesh.

• REB Power Poles: Arsenic compounds have been used in wood preservatives as
chromate copper arsenic (CCA) for years. A study in this regard by
NRECA/ICDDR,B concluded that the wooden pylons, capable of releasing only
very small quantities of arsenic, may only pollute on an extremely localized scale,
but these poles can, in no way, be linked to the extensive contamination of

• Industrial Wastes: Industrial wastes can be responsible for localized high arsenic
contamination of groundwater. Again, the widespread nature of the contamination
and the fact that most of the arsenic contaminations are found in areas where no
or little industrial activities take place rule out this hypothesis.

• Mining and Mineral Processing: It can be the source of arsenic pollution in the
proximity of the mining areas. But, in Bangladesh, absence of metal mines
invalidates the application of the concept.

• Lower Aeration beneath Irrigated Lands: Arsenic may be released at an intense

rate beneath agricultural lands, as conditions in the underlying aquifer become
more reducing due to cutting-off of air entry by irrigated water. The resulting
enhanced leaching of arsenic may have a long-term effect, but cannot account for
the mode of occurrence of current extensive contamination in Bangladesh, which
is not restricted to the upper-most part of the aquifer only.

5.2 Natural causes:

In natural waters, arsenic is usually found in one of four chemical associations, which
occur in more-or-less predictable geological and climatic settings, and each of these is
associated with a characteristic cause, or mobilization mechanism. These water types and
mobilisation mechanisms are themes that recur throughout the book because they
determine not only where arsenic is found, but also how it may be avoided, how it affects
agriculture, and how it may best be treated. The four mechanisms are described below
in order of decreasing importance:

• Reductive dissolution: occurs when iron oxides, onto which arsenic is adsorbed,
break down under the influence of decaying organic matter (which consumes
oxygen sources) and dissolve, thereby releasing arsenic in the process. The

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

groundwater produced by these processes is always strongly reducing, with high

concentrations of iron and bicarbonate, while nitrate and sulphate are absent.

• Alkali desorption: occurs at high pH (≥8.0) and in the presence of dissolved

oxygen, nitrate or sulphate, producing waters which can be termed ‘alkali-oxic’,
and which have low concentrations of iron and manganese.

• Sulphide oxidation: occurs where sulphide minerals such as pyrite or arsenopyrite

are exposed to oxygen, often at the water table, to produce waters that are
typically both acid (pH 1–6) and sulphate-rich, but not necessarily high in iron.

• Geothermal: waters from deep, sometime volcanic, sources leach arsenic from the
country rocks. The waters are distinguished primarily by elevated temperature,
and usually also by a correlation of arsenic with chloride.

6. Availability of Arsenic in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh:

In Khulna division at least 67.84 per cent tubewells have been affected with arsenic
contamination. It has posed .as a health hazard of the people of the people of Khulna
division. Out of 1,213 arsenic affected tubewells, 838 tubewells have been marked as
dangerous and its percentage in 46.87. The authorities concerned said, zero point zero
five milligram arsenic in a liter of water is acceptable, but if its quantity is more than that
it is unfit for human consumption.

In Khulna district 393 tubewells have been examined and presences of arsenic in 199
tubewells have been detected. Water of 126 tubewells have been found dangerous.

In Bagerhat district 115 tubewells water have been examined and presence of arsenic was
found in 79 tubewells. A total of 58 tubewells out of 79 have been declared dangerous.

In Satkhira district arsenic contamination is very alarming. After examining 313

tubewells water of 258 tube wells have been found arsenic contamination in excess

In Jessore district 389 tubewells have been examined. Arsenic was found in 257
tubewells.Out of them 185 tubewells have been declared unfit for taking water.

In Narail district 82 tubewells have been examined and presence of arsenic was found in
61 tubewells. A total of 50 tubewells have been declared as unfit.

In Jhenidah district 64 tubewells have been examined. Presence of arsenic was found in
42 tubewells, out of which 27 tubewells have been declared unfit for use.

In Magura presence of arsenic was found in 42 tubewells, out of which 35 tube- wells
have been declared dangerous.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

In Kushtia 162 tubewells were examined and presence of arsenic was found in 105
tubewells. A total of 64 tubewells have been declared dangerous and unfit for use.

In Chuadanga district 144 tubewells have been examined and presence of arsenic was
found in 109 tubewells. A total of 68 tubewells have been declared unfit for use.

In Meherpur 71 tubewells have been examined where presence of arsenic has been found
in 61 tubewells. A total of 35 tubewells contained excessive quantity of arsenic and those
are declared unfit for use.
Source:The Daily Star -July 19, 1998-Arsenic detected in many tubewells in Khulna division

In Chandpur is among the five districts in the country severely affected by arsenic
contamination of groundwater. A preliminary survey by the Department of Public Health
and Engineering (DPHE) showed that water of about 40 per cent of the tubewells tested
so far in Chandpur contained arsenic and 83 per cent of those 40 per cent had
concentration of arsenic above the permissible level of 0.05 mg per litre, according to
sources in the DPHE. On an average, there are about 30 tubewells in a village in the
district. But no arsenic contamination was found in deep tubewell water.
Siurce:The Daily Star -November 10, 1997 -Arsenic affected Chandpur - Villagers don't know what to do next

Arsenic detected in water in Jhalakati, High level arsenic contamination was found in
waters of four shallow tubewells in the district, according to a report of Public Health
Engineering Department. Water of four shallow tubewells in Nalchhiti, sadar and Rajapur
thanas contained arsenic above the acceptable level of 0.01 milligram.
Source:The Daily Star- Sept 26; 1997

17. State of Arsenic in the Coastal Zone of Bangladesh:

Until 1998, a total of 31,651 water samples were tested by field and laboratory tests by
different organizations. Out of these, 30,742 were collected from shallow wells (<200 m)
and 909 from deep wells (>200 m). It has been found that 7,942 samples out of the
30,742 from shallow wells and 34 samples out of the 909 from deep wells are
contaminated with the percentages 25.8 and 4, respectively. The arsenic contaminated
districts of Bangladesh are shown in Figure 3. From Figure 3, it is apparent that all the
surveyed districts (61 out of 64) show the presence of arsenic contamination. However,
nine contaminated districts out of 61 show that a very limited percentage (<1%) of wells
are contaminated.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

Table-2: Arsenic Contamination-by Division and Nationally

Division Total Arsenic Total Arsenic Affected Affected

districts affected thanas affected thanas, % of thanas, % of
districts thanas total thanas all thanas in
Dhaka 17 16 134 61 45% 12%
Chittagong 11 9 93 21 22 % 4%
Rajshahi 16 16 127 35 27% 7%
Khulna 10 10 63 42 66% 9%
Slhet 4 4 35 34 97% 7%
Barisal 6 6 38 18 47% 4%
Bangladesh 64 61 490 211 43%
Note: Table shows affected thanas, where Arsenic Concentration in groundwater is > 0.05 mg/l.
Source: DPHE/DFID Regional Arsenic Survey, 1998

Three districts (i.e., Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban) were not surveyed by any
organization. One reason may be that these three districts are mainly hilly areas, with
8.73 percent of the total area of Bangladesh and only 0.92 percent of the total population.
Another reason may be that no primary symptoms of arsenic patient were found there. In
Bangladesh, there are 64 districts and 490 thanas. Out of 465 thanas of the surveyed 61
districts, 54 were not surveyed at all by any organization. Figure 3 shows that almost the
whole of the country is contaminated with arsenic. The severe problem is in the southern
(coastal area) and northeast parts of the country. The badly affected districts are
Brahmanbaria, Comilla, Feni, Narayanganj, Sariatpur, Narail, Satkhira, and Nawabganj.
The disastrous situation is in the districts of Laksmipur, Noakhali, Madaripur and
Chandpur (Figure 3). The Ganges, Megna, and Atri Floodplains, the tidal regions and the
coastal plains are the major physiographic regions vulnerable to arsenic contamination. In
April 2000, SOES and DCH jointly published a report on Bangladesh groundwater
arsenic contamination (SOES-DCH, 2000), which shows figures different from those in
the BGS report. Figure 4 shows arsenic contaminated districts according to the SOES-
DCH survey. The main difference between the combined analysis (Figure 3) and the
SOESDCH survey (Figure 4) is that Figure 3 shows all 61 sur-veyed districts were
contaminated with concentration of > 0.05 mg/L, whereas Figure 4 shows seven
completely safe districts (i.e., Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Naogaon,
Moulabibazar, Patuakhali, and Cox’s Bazar), and seven districts (i.e., Nilphamari,
Lalmonirhat, Gaibanda, Joypurhat, Dhaka, Barguna, and Bhola) were over the WHO
safety limit but under the maximum permissible limit. Three no-surveyed districts of
combined analysis (Khagrachhari, Rangamati, and Bandarban) were found contamination
free by the SOES-DCH survey.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline


8. Survey Results of Different Organization

in the Coastal Belt of Bangladesh:

Medical evidence of arsenicosis was first discovered in West Bengal in

1987, although the connection with groundwater contamination was
not recognized until some years later. Further surveys were carried out
during the 1980s (eg Chakraborty et al, 1987; Mazumder et al, 1988),
culminating in a national report by PHED, India, in 1991. In 1993,
DPHE, Bangladesh, tested for and identified arsenic at Chapai
Nawabganj, near the border with West Bengal, but it was not until 1995
that the existence of arsenic in Bangladesh became widely known.;

In 1997 DPHE with the assistance of UNICEF made a nation wide

survey using field test kit and produce a database of some 23,000
tests. NGO forum and Grameen Bank carried out extensive surveys,
while BRAC tested all 12,000 wells in Hajiganj upazila of Chandpur
district where 93% of drinking water wells are contaminated by
arsenic. In December 1996, Asia Arsenic Network (Japan based NGO)
carried out a detailed survey in Samta village of Jessore of southwest
region and reported that 90% of the tubewells are arsenic
contaminated. In early 1997 BUET made a random survey in Northeast
part of Bangladesh under East Minor Irrigation Project (NEMIP) and
tested 1210 water samples of which 61% of the samples were above
0.01 mg/l and 33% were above 0.05 mg/l of arsenic. A further sample

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
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was analyzed by BCSIR of which 42% contain above 0.05 mg/l of


Available laboratory analytical results compiled under the project by

British Geological Survey (BGS) and Mott Mecdonald limited BGS-MML
1999, shows that out of 9271 analysis, arsenic concentration in 3243
samples exceeded the limit of 0.05 mg/l., which is 35% of all samples

Table-3: arsenic contamination in drinking water

Avera No.of % of % age of wells in given

District ge Sampl walls arsenic concentration
Level es Exceedi class
(g/l) teste ng <10 10- 50- >
d 50(g/l) 50 200 200
Bagerhat 156 62 60 19 21 31 29
Barguna 1 33 0 97 3 0 0
Barisal 92 92 30 58 12 12 18
Bhola 10 48 4 96 0 2 2
Chandpur 366 59 90 8 2 10 80
Chittagong 32 44 16 68 16 11 5
Cox’s Bazar 3 43 2 95 2 2 0
Feni 54 53 28 49 23 24 4
Gopalganj 187 42 79 17 5 43 36
Jessore 70 69 46 29 25 39 7
Jhalokati 23 33 9 76 15 6 3
Khulna 35 76 24 61 16 21 3
Lakshimpur 179 34 56 24 21 26 29
Narail 88 24 42 37 21 25 17
Noakhali 162 49 69 16 14 37 33
Patuakhali 3 42 0 93 7 0 0
Pirojpur 30 47 17 66 17 11 6
Satkhira 133 61 67 18 15 41 26
Shariatpur 151 49 65 24 10 35 31
Source:BGS & DPHE,200lb

The study called “Groundwater Studies for Arsenic Contamination in

Bangladesh”, conducted by BGS-MML reported that out of 64 districts,
drinking water in 61 districts are contaminated by arsenic though the
percentage of the tubewells contaminated vary from 90% to less then
5%. The results indicated that it is strongly concentrated in parts of the
southeast and southwest region of the country.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
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The distribution of arsenic is systematically related to both depth and

geological unit. The very shallowest groundwater as encountered in
dug-well is mostly uncontaminated. It is observed that the highest
concentration occurs at depth of 20 to 70 meters below ground. Wells
used in Bangladesh rarely goes below 70 to 100 m, with very few
below 150 to 200 meter below ground. Most of the wells deeper than
about 150 to 200 m have been found to contain very low concentration
of arsenic. So in general, it appears to be an improvement of quality in
terms of arsenic as well as iron and other with depth of borehole.
Results from a British Geological Survey of 253 samples showed the
following results.

About 51% of groundwater sampled have found more than 0.01 mg/l
arsenic (WHO standard), while 35% of groundwater sampled have been
found more than 0.05 mg/l arsenic (Bangladesh standard). About 30
million people are either directly or indirectly exposed from arsenic
contamination with varying degrees of risk. Under the Bangladesh
Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project (BAMWSP), so far 13,48,362
tube-wells used for drinking water source have been tested for arsenic,
48% of which contains arsenic above 0.05 mg/l.

9. Effects of Arsenic Contamination:

9.1 Effects on Human Health

The data collected by the governmental bodies, NGOs and private organizations reveal
that a large number of populations in Bangladesh are suffering from melanosis, leuco-
melanosis, keratosis, hyperkeratosis, dorsum, non-petting oedema, gangrene and skin
cancer18. Melanosis (93.5%) and keratosis (68.3%) are the most common presentations
among the affected people. Patients of Leucomelanosis (39.1%) and hyper-keratosis
(37.6%) have been found in many cases. Few cases of skin cancer (0.8%) have also been
identified among the patients seriously affected by the arsenicals (arsenite and arsenate).

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

Fig-5: Skin Lesions in Soles due to Arsenic Intake in Drinking Water

The occurrence of arsenic diseases depends on the ingestion of arsenic compounds and
their excretion from the body. It has been reported that 40% to 60% arsenic can be
retained by the human body. It indicates that the level of hazards will be higher with the
greater consumption of arsenic contaminated water. The daily consumption of arsenic
contaminated water is very high in Bangladesh, especially in villages. The villagers
consume about five liters water per day due to manual labor. Moreover, they consume
plenty of rice-water and all of their foods are also cooked using arsenic polluted water.
Therefore, the people of villages in the affected areas are getting more arsenic than
expected. So far SOES and DCH had analyzed 11000 hair, nail, urine and skin-scale
samples collected from the affected villages in Bangladesh. The analysis shows that
around 90% of people have arsenic in their hair, nail and urine above the normal level.
The normal concentration of arsenic in hair is 0.08-0.25 mg/kg and 1 mg/kg indicates the
toxiclevel. The normal arsenic content in nails is 0.43-1.08 mg/kg and the normal amount
of arsenic in urine ranges from 0.005 to 0.040 mg/day. Table shows that the arsenic
contents in hairs, nails, urine and skin scales of the affected people are very high in

Table-4: arsenic contents in hairs, nails, urine and skin scales

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
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There are several factors may have been responsible for triggering off the arsenicrelated
diseases in Bangladesh. The primary reason appears to be the malnutrition, a state that
describes 80 percent of the population of Bangladesh. Having less immunity, a huge
number of people are suffering from the chronic arsenic poisoning. Many People have
died, many are dying and many will die of arsenic diseases. In brief, the majority of the
people in Bangladesh are grappling with the massive health crisis caused by the arsenic

9.2 Social Effects

Although what is causing arsenic contamination in groundwater is not clear indisputably,

its effect on people is well known. The sudden increase in arsenic related diseases has
panicked the local people. The native people consider the arsenic diseases contagious. In
many instances, the people suffering from arsenic diseases have been ostracized by
neighbors, friends and relatives. The affected people are either avoided or discouraged to
appear in public places. The affected children are often barred from attending schools and
the adults are discouraged from attending offices and any public meetings. Qualified
persons are refused jobs when found suffering from arsenicosis. Those affected with a
higher level of contamination are considered incapable of working and hence victimized
by the growing poverty. The situation is worse for women. The women suffering from
arsenic diseases are increasingly facing ostracization and discrimination. Young women
suffering from arsenicosis are often compelled to stay unmarried. Married women
affected by arsenic are no longer considered acceptable as wives due to skin lesions and
sent back to their parents with children. Thus, the unaffected parents and children are also
suffering socially with the affected females. Above all, the affected people are losing their
as usual social relation with the neighbors and relatives.

9.3 Effects on Soils, irrigation and agriculture

Combined exposure from food and water can significantly increase the disease burden
from arsenic. In many affected areas, moderately high levels of arsenic are found in
natural soils. Arsenic may be taken up through the roots of plants to accumulate in the
edible parts. Where soil is the only source of arsenic, uptake by plants declines over time.
However, greater problems may develop where arsenic in irrigation water accumulates in
the soil and leads to increasing uptake by plants. In general, as a proportion of dry mass,
leafy vegetables and some spices may take up the most arsenic, but when adjusted for

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
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dietary intake, grains such as rice make the largest contribution to human exposure. In
some Asian countries this can be a larger source of exposure than drinking water. High
concentrations of arsenic in soil can be toxic to rice, and can dramatically reduce yields.
This worrying phenomenon has recently been recognised in South Asia ( Duxbury and
Panaullah, 2007), but as Reed and Sturgis (1936) noted ‘Arsenic toxicity in soils is no
new problem’.

10. Options for Mitigation of Arsenic in drinking water

Mitigation program is however not very significant as compared to the

severity of arsenic contamination for several reasons. Several options
are considered to mitigate the arsenic contamination in the drinking

1a) Surface water supply;

2b) Dug wells
3c) Deep tube wells;
4d) Ponds and Pond Sand Filter;
5e) Rainwater harvesting;
6f) Alkam Enhanced Activated Alumina filter;
7g) BUET filter;
8h) Arsenic removal at household level;
9i) Rural and Peri-urban piped water supply based on Mini-STW’s, etc

10.1 Dug well

Dug well is the oldest method of groundwater withdrawal of water
supplies. Most of the dug wells are either free from arsenic or iron or
concentration is well below the acceptable limit. Dug wells are
constructed at least 1m in diameter to facilitate manual excavation
and sunk to a depth of at least 1m deeper than the lowest water level.
To protect it from bacteriological contamination can be achieved
through sealing the well top and the upper part of the well lining and
the space between the wall and soil. Water can be withdrawn by
installing manually operated handpump.

10.2 Pond sand filter

Traditionally rural water supply to a large extent was based on
protected ponds before and after the installation of tubewell. There are
about 1,288,222 nos of ponds in Bangladesh (BBS, 1996) having an
area of 0.114ha per ponds and 21.5 ponds per mouza, nearly 17 to 20

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

percent of them dries up in the dry season. In general these are

biological quality of water is extremely poor. If one pond per mouza
could be protected from contamination, it would provide a source of
drinking water with minimal treatment.
Slow sand filters are package type filter units developed to treat
surface waters for domestic consumption in the coastal saline belt. In
this system surface water is discharges in a small reservoir underlain
by a sand bed and the filtered water is collected through taps. The
system popularly known as Pond Sand Filter (PSF) is one of the
alternative technologies for supplying arsenic free potable water,
suitable for the household level at village level.

10.3 Rainwater harvesting

Beside rainwater may be collected 5 minutes after rain starts, at
household level through the pre-fabricated jar or containers, which
require no treatment (except filtration for separation of suspended
solids, if any) before domestic use.

10.4 Deep tube wells

In areas where arsenic free groundwater can be abstracted safely from
deeper aquifer further expansion of DTW’s fitted with suction mode
hand pump, TARA pumps for individual household or with motorized
pumps for community based piped water supply system are being
considered. Government under the urgent mitigation program has
prepared a protocol for drilling deep hand tubewell from arsenic
affected areas where arsenic is within tolerable limit.

11. Arsenic Removal Technologies Used in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh:

Although a number of treatment technologies exist that are capable of efficient removal
of arsenic from water, but the socio-economic conditions that prevail in Bangladesh do
not permit the implementation of most of them on the cost ground. Individual households
or small groups have their own or community tube-wells. Therefore, solution to the
problem of arsenic contamination, in most situations, in Bangladesh demands the
development technology/ technologies that can be implemented at household or small
community level relatively at a very lower cost. Recently a number of researches have
been conducted to identify such novel technologies for arsenic removal to implement in
rural isolated communities. A brief overview of some of these documented technologies
is presented here.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

11.1 Iron (and Manganese) Oxidation

Passive sedimentation
Since a large part of Bangladesh (about 65% areas) contains iron in excess of 2 mg/L and
in many acute iron problem areas, the concentration of iron is as high as 15 mg/L,
therefore, arsenic has been found to co-exists with iron in many situation. In such
situation, arsenic can be removed by both co -precipitation and adsorption onto the
precipitated Fe(OH)3 by oxidation of this water during collection and subsequently
storing them in household level. Mamtaz and Bache (2000) from their bench-scale tests
demonstrated that arsenic can be removed by co-precipitation with naturally occurring
iron but removal rate largely controlled by the arsenic concentration, the iron/arsenic
ratio, and pH. It is evident from their test result that up to 88% of the arsenite in water
could be removed by settlement over a period of 24h. Authors collected arsenic
contaminated natural groundwater having very high iron content from Manikgonj area.
Samples were shaken during the time of collection and transportation, and allowed to
settle in the laboratory. This process removed more than 60% arsenic, where raw
groundwater arsenic and iron concentrations were in the range of 150 μg/L to 713 μg/L
and 8 mg/L to 14 mg/L respectively. The rapid assessment of this technology by
BAMWSP, DFID and WaterAid(2001) showed that it failed to reduce arsenic to the
desired Bangladesh standard for Drinking Water of 50 μg/L in most of their teste d tube-

11.2 In-situ oxidation

In-situ oxidation of iron and arsenic in the aquifer has been tested under DPHE-Danida
Arsenic Mitigation Pilot Project where the aerated tube-well water is stored in a tank and
then stored water is discharged into the aquifers through tube-well pipe under the pump
head. Water collected by tube -well from such aquifers, followed by in-situ oxidation iron
and arsenic, showed about 50% removal of arsenic.

11.3 Solar oxidation

In this process, transparent bottle containing water are exposed to sunlight for solar
oxidation of arsenic in presence other oxidants like oxygen, followed by precipitation of
arsenic with naturally occurring iron. Experiments in Bangladesh showed that the process
on average could remove arsenic content of water to about one-third, and removal
efficiency increased to about 45 -78% when 50 μM citrate or 100-200 μL (4-8 drops) of
lemon juice/L is added.
11.4 Arsenic and iron removal plants (AIRP)
The conventional small-community type iron removal plants, which operate on the
principles of aeration of ferrous iron to convert them to ferric iron to co-precipitate
arsenic.Groundwater drawn by hand tube-well drops into storage (aeration/
sedimentation) chamber for oxidation of iron and arsenic with air to co-precipitate. Water
from storage chamber passes through filtration chamber due to the pressure head of
aeration/ sedimentation chamber and subsequently collected into a storage tank for public
uses. Filtration media comprises of brick chips, charcoal and sands. Filtration media is
periodically (3 to 4 times a year) back washed, and sludge is collected in a holding pond.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

The DPHE, with support from Dutch Government, constructed 3 arsenic and iron
removal plants for piped water supply system in small municipalities, where arsenic co-
exits with iron in tube-well water. In these plants, groundwater is pumped over a series of
cascades to aerated water and then passes through filtration unit which removes iron and
arsenic precipitates. Iron and arsenic removal efficiencies of 18-DTP (1999) arsenic

Most of the AIRP plants shown here have good arsenic removal performance and have
been treating water to the satisfactory level except in those areas, where arsenic
concentrations are high. It is evident from field survey that these AIRP plants are well
accepted by the community. Thus, some of the above described arsenic and iron removal
plants have good potentials for small isolated communities and densely populated
communities respectively where arsenic co-exists with iron at suitable concentrations.

11.5 Bucket treatment unit

Bucket treatment unit developed by DPHE-Danida a project consists of two buckets
(about 20 L capacity) placed. Chemicals (200 mg/L aluminum sulfate and 2 mg/L
potassium permanganate) are mixed manually with arsenic contaminated water in upper
bucket by vigorous stirring with a wooden sticks for about 30-60 seconds and then
flocculated by gentle stirring for about 90 seconds. Mixed water is then allowed settle for
about 1-2 hours and top supernatant is allowed to flow into the lower bucket via a plastic
pipe and sand filter installed in the lower bucket. Although this technology perform well
(with arsenic removal efficiencies in the range of 67% to 83%) in many situation but in
some cases under rural operating condition it fails to remove to desired Bangladesh
standard level. Presently, BUET modified the system and used 100 mg/L of ferric
chloride and 1.4 mg/L potassium permanganate, and it perform very well with arsenic
removal; efficiency up to 94%.

11.6 Steven Institute technology

This unit consists of two buckets. Chemicals (reported to be iron sulfate and calcium
hypochloride) supplied in packets are mixed in one bucket and the mixture is transferred
to another bucket to separate flocs by the processes of sedimentation and filtration.The
rapid assessment of this technology by BAMWSP, DFID and WaterAid(2001) showed

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

that this technology was effective in reducing arsenic levels to less than 50 μg/L in case
of 80% to 95% of the samples tested.
11.7 Pitcher treatment
A pitcher filter unit or small sand filters at the household level can clarify surface water
containing impurities. This method of water purification was primarily in use by the rural
people of Bangladesh. With the introduction of tube wells for village water supply these
processes of water treatment have been phased out at household level. Raw water is
poured in the top pitcher and filtered water is collected from the bottom one. Other
pitchers contain same filtration media, sands and brick chips. This system has been tried
to remove arsenic from groundwater, collected from contaminated tube-wells. Sono 3-
pitchers filter uses zero valent iron filling and coarse sand in the top pitcher, charcoal and
fine sand in the middle pitcher. The bottom pitcher is used to store treated water. The
arsenic removal efficiencies of this system are in the range of 59% to 95% but it depends
on the maintenance of the system and the quality of water. But if batches are left for too
long, dissolved iron concentrations become unacceptably high (Ramaswami et al, 2000).
The rapid assessment of this technology by BAMWSP, DFID and WaterAid(2001)
showed that this technology was effective in removing arsenic, but the system may be
quickly clogged if groundwater contains excessive iron.

11.8 Activated Alumina

Water passes through the packed column of activated alumina, impurities present in water
including arsenic are adsorbed on the surface of activated alumina grains. At some stage,
the alumina becomes saturated and then exposing the medium to 4% caustic soda
regenerates these. The residual caustic soda is then washed out and the medium is
neutralized with a 2% solution of sulfuric acid rinse. Number activated alumina based
sorptive media are used in Bangladesh including:

• BUET Activated Alumina

• Alcan Enhanced Activated Alumina
• Arsenic Removal Unit of Project Earth Industries Inc., USA
• Apyron Arsenic Treatment Unit

The rapid assessment of these technology by BAMWSP, DFID and WaterAid(2001)

showed that BUET Activated Alumina and Alcan Activated Alumina are more effective
in removing arsenic. BRAC, a nongovernment organization has experimented a number
of alternative technologies including two Alcan Activated Alumina filter.

11.9 Ion Exchange

Tetrahedron ion exchange resin filter tested under rapid assessment program in
Bangladesh (BAMWSP, DFID and WaterAid, 2001) showed promising result in arsenic
removal. The performance and applicability these arsenic removal units should be
determined through closed field monitoring.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

11.01 Membrane Technique

A nanofiltration process coupled with bicycle pumping system was examined by Oh et al
(2000a) using arsenic contaminated tube-well water in rural area of Bangladesh. Arsenite
was found to have lower rejection than arsenate in ionized form. Therefore low-pressure
nanofiltration with pre-oxidation or reverse osmosis with a bicycle pump device can be
used for the treatment of arsenic contaminated groundwater where electricity supply is
not efficient or feasible. The capital and operational cost of this system is relatively high.

11.11 Other Arsenic Removal Technologies

To mitigate arsenic contamination problems in Bangladesh, numbers of organizations and
industries have been trying to develop arsenic removal system and chemicals including:

• Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) Filter Unit

• DPHE-Danida Fill and Draw Unit
• Read-F Aresenic Removal Unit
• Sapla Filter
• Granet Home-made Filter
• Adarsha Filter
• Safi Filter
• Bijoypur Clay Filter
• Several Cartridge Filter
• Iron coated sand
• Granular ferric hydroxide
• Tourmaline mineral

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

12. Recommendations:

Although groundwater arsenic contamination in Bangladesh has been declared a national

disaster by the government, its seriousness is yet to be fully comprehended. If the
following recommendations for research and development are successfully carried out,
the remediation of arsenic contamination will be much easier.

1. It is highly desirable to form a research group with geologists, hydrologists, geo-

chemists, water supply and environmental engineers, and public health experts to conduct
in-depth investigation on the sources and causes of arsenic contamination in groundwater.

2. A comprehensive research plan should be developed to determine the geological, hydro

geological and geochemical factors controlling the chemical reactions generating and
releasing arsenic to groundwater.

3. A national groundwater resources management policy is established in order to limit

the indiscriminate abstraction of groundwater.

4. It is highly recommended that every donor projects in arsenic mitigation bylaw ensure
community participation for smooth running in future.

5. A comprehensive water distribution system should be implemented and an efficient

monitoring system should be established to provide potable water and to prevent future
arsenic contamination in drinking water.

6. An effective sewage disposal system should also be established to accompany any

deployment of water distribution system.

7. Guidelines on the disposal of arsenical wastes should be established to minimize the

contamination in soil and water.

8. An estimate of annual arsenic use in agriculture is required and the short-term or long-
term environmental impact of arsenic use in cultivation should be assessed.

9. The population exposed to the arsenic contamination should be advised about the
arsenic in drinking water, the sources of arsenic-free water, and the importance of
compliance with treatment programs including the nutrition.

Arsenic Contamination in Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
Muhammad Mahadi.
Environmental Science Discipline

13. Concluding Remarks:

Arsenic contamination is not peculiar to Bangladesh alone. This is a global problem.

Thousands of arsenic affected patients have already been identified. If the people
continue to use arsenic contaminated water, millions will lose their health or die within a
few decades. Those who will survive are in a danger of carrying genetic diseases to future
generation. Unfortunately, the basic facts in Bangladesh are that the people in the affected
regions are still unaware of arsenic contamination and its hazardous effects. The
governmental efforts are much less than needed to mitigate the crisis. Hence, the
immediate involvement of international community is urgent to combat the slow onset
disaster and save the poor people. Economically and technologically, Bangladesh is not in
a firm position to solve the arsenic crisis herself. Environmental experts and funds are
desperately needed to save the lives of millions of people affected by deadly arsenic. The
international community has the economic resources, environmental experts, and
technologies to mitigate the arsenic contamination in groundwater. The support of United
Nations, donor countries, donor organizations, agencies, and individuals is essential to
save the suffering people from the devastating arsenic disaster.