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Arsenic pollution in the Bengal delta is considered to be the most
hazardous environmental problem in recent years, affecting millions of
people residing in West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh. Tube wells in the
depth range 20–50 m yield maximum arsenic concentration in groundwater;
the values may exceed 500 ppb compared to the maximum permissible limit
of 50 ppb in potable water(as permitted by WHO).Tube wells in the depth
range of 120-140metres are also reported to discharge arsenic contaminated
water. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, alluvial Ganges aquifers used for
public water supply are polluted with naturally occurring arsenic, which
adversely affects the health of millions of people.
Previously arsenic contamination was reported only from workers of
factories who had to deal with Arsenic in workplace, but when the
symptoms of common people who had no relations with the workers
matched with them in physical characteristic the focus shifted to the food
habits of these common people. Initially the filters used in tube wells were
considered to be culprits behind the Arsenic contamination, but after
elaborate research the Ground water was proved to be the reason behind
Arsenic contamination of millions of people of the region.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring poisonous chemical element and
always present as compound. It is widely distributed in the soil profile as
component of different minerals and found in nominal amounts in all
organisms. Arsenic is a partially metallic substance and always present as
compounds. Organic arsenic is generally less (about ten-fold) toxic than
inorganic arsenic. The commonly existing inorganic As-species in
groundwater are in the form of arsenate (As V) and arsenite (As III), the
latter being more mobile and toxic (40-60 times) for living organisms.
Arsenic occurs in West Bengal as geological deposits at a shallower
depth (usually at 40-150 feet). The source of arsenic in deltaic plain of West
Bengal is considered to be the arsenic-rich sediments transported from the
Chotonagpur Rajmahal Highlands (Acharya et al. 2000; Saha et al. 1997)
and deposited in sluggish meandering streams under reducing conditions.
Generally shallow tube well water is found heavily contaminated by arsenic
ranging from 0.01-3.0 mg/l. The most common arsenic mineral is
arsenopyrite which often occurs as impurity in arsenopyrite- rich sulphide
Effects of Arsenic on Human Health:-

Any form of arsenic compound is toxic to human. Its toxicity is more than
four times higher than that of the toxic trace element mercury. The toxic
effect of arsenic species depends mainly on their chemical form, route of
entry, age, sex, doses and duration of exposure. Arsenic toxicity occurs
through contaminated food or drinking water.
Skin diseases are the common effects of arsenic poisoning. Long term
exposure to excessive arsenic causes changes in skin pigments and
hyperkeratosis; promotes development of ulcerations of skin; and accelerates
the risk of cancer in liver, bladder, kidney and skin. It happens in three
i) Initial stage: Dermatitis, keratities, conjunctivities,bronchities and
ii) Second stage: Peripheral neuropathy, hepatopathy, melanosis,
depigmentation and hyperkeratosis.
iii) Final stage: Gangrene in the limbs, malignant neoplasm, and cancer.

Approximately 20 incidents of groundwater arsenic contamination

have been reported from all over the world. Of these, four major incidents
were in Asia: in Bangladesh); West Bengal, India; Inner Mongolia, China;
and Taiwan. The world’s two biggest cases of groundwater arsenic
contamination and those that affected the greatest number of people were in
Bangladesh and West Bengal.
Nine districts in West Bengal, India, and 42 districts in Bangladesh
have arsenic levels in groundwater above the World Health Organization
maximum permissible limit of 50 µg/L. The area and population of the 42
districts in Bangladesh and the 9 districts in West Bengal are 92,106 km2
and 79.9 million and 38,865 km2 and 42.7 million, respectively.
Current statistics show that there are 985 arsenic-affected villages in
69 police stations of nine arsenic-affected districts in West Bengal.
Physical parameters and arsenic-affected districts of
Bangladesh and West Bengal.


Total area (km2) 148,393 89,192.4

Total population (million) 120 68

Total number of districts 64 19

No. of districts with 42 9

arsenic levels in
groundwater > 50 µg/L

Area of affected 92,106 38,865

districts (km2)

Population of affected 79.9 42.7

districts (million)

No. of districts with 25 7

patients with arsenical
skin lesions to date
Map showing the arsenic-affected districts and the districts where arsenic patients have been
identified in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Districts in West Bengal are indicated by letters, as follows: A,
Maldah; B, Murshidabad; C, Bardhaman; D, Hugli; E, Howrah; F, Nadia; G, North 24-Parganas; H, South 24-
Parganas; and I, Calcutta. Districts in Bangladesh are indicated by numbers, as follows: 1, Nawabganj; 2,
Rajsahi; 3, Kushthia; 4, Meherpur; 5, Chuadanga; 6, Jhinaidah; 7, Jessore; 8, Satkhira; 9, Khulna; 10, Narail;
11, Magura; 12, Natore; 13, Pabna; 14, Rajbari; 15, Faridpur; 16, Gopalganj; 17, Pirojpur; 18, Bagerhat; 19,
Sirajganj; 20, Manikganj; 21, Madaripur; 22, Barishal; 23, Jalkathii; 24, Jamalpur; 25, Tangail; 26,
Munsiganj; 27, Shariatpur; 28, Sherpur; 29, Mymensingh; 30, Narayanganj; 31, Chandpur; 32, Laxmipur; 33,
Netrokona; 34, Kishoreganj; 35, Narsingdi; 36, Braminbaria; 37, Comilla; 38, Noakhali; 39, Feni; 40,
Sunamganj; 41, Chittagong; and 42, Bogra.
The Deganga Block of the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal
is one of the most Arsenic contaminated regions of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-
Meghna deltaic region. Till date at least 170 people had died in North 24
Parganas due to Arsenic contamination related complications.
A field survey was organized by the Department of Environmental
Systems Management, Presidency College on 8th December 2007 in the
Arsenic affected regions of the Habra region to have a first hand knowledge
of the enormity of the Arsenic contamination on the life of the inhabitants of
the region.

The visit enlightened upon the salient features-

• Effect of acute and chronic Arsenic contamination among the

general masses of the region.
• To gather information on different stages of Arsenicosis
• Awareness of the people regarding the impact of the Arsenic
• Why are the common people compelled to consume arsenic
contaminated water?
• Socio-economic condition of the people .their food habits in
general, their nutritional level and their body immunity to
combat the menace of Arsenic pollution.
• Role of the Governmental and several non Governmental
organizations in combating the pollution and aiding the affected

Our objective of visit to Deganga is due to a questionnaire based project

to experience of how arsenic contamination is hindering the natural flow of
life in these areas. The journey to the affected regions was started on the
morning of 8th December 2007 in two Tata Sumos and ended in the evening.
Some basic questions to know the physical, socio-economic condition of the
inhabitants of two villages namely Kamdebkathi and Kolsur at Deganga
were done. Apart from that we have prepared some survey sheets, taken
some pictures of the different affected persons and different stages of their
arsenic related diseases manifestations. We have also tried to investigate the
measures that have been taken in response to prevent arsenic contamination
among these villagers by governmental and non-governmental
organizations. We have seen the arsenic purification units. Finally we tried
to figure out the awareness level of local people in prevention of arsenic
contamination and whether they are taking some active measures to find out
any solutions or not. We haven’t done any chemical analysis so it is truly an
observation based project; data are collected from different books, research
papers, magazines, news papers and from internet also. The following
questions are included in our survey questionnaire:

 Name, age, occupation of the surveyed individual?

 How long the person inhabited the place?
 How the arsenic contaminated water is consumed? Are they
compelled to do that or there are some way outs?
 What physical complications had been encountered?
 What are the projects/solution measures taken by governmental
organizations or NGOs?
 How much are the masses conscious of the impact of the pollution?
North 24 Parganas is situated in the southern part of the Bengal
Basin. The geographical extent of the district lies between 88019/ E, 23020/ N
to 89010/ E, 22001/ N. The district consists of 22 blocks. Officially there are
1582 inhabited villages in North 24 Parganas district. There are 679
Municipal areas (known as wards) in North 24 Parganas district. Extending
over an area of 4094 km2, the district has 89,34,286 inhabitants (46,38,756
are males and 42,95,530 females). The region is highly affected by Arsenic
contamination and at least 170 people have died due to arsenic
contamination related complications.

DEGANGA (Coordinates:-22◦43’N; 88◦29’E/22◦72’N; 88◦48’E) is a

town with a police station, a community development block, and an
assembly constituency in Barasat subdivision of North 24 Parganas district
in the Indian state of West Bengal. The area with an old history in a rural
setting is facing the problem of groundwater. The region is accessible by
road and by railways.

Administration: Deganga is an intermediate panchayat (local self-

government) under North 24 Parganas district. Village panchayats under it
are – Amulia, Berachampa I & II, Chakla, Champatala, Chaurashi, Deganga
I & II, Hadipur-Jikhra I & II, Kolsur, Nurnagar and Sohai-Shetpur. ◦


In the 2001 census, Deganga community development block had a

population of 276,049 out of which 141,545 were males and 134,504 were

One of the most affected area. It is a small village with considerably

small population. Most of the people in this village are from lower income
group and their nutritional level is also very poor. Agriculture, casual labor
etc their occupation the village doesn’t have any arsenic purification unit
inside one kilometer. Most of tube wells remained unmarked. At
Kamdebkati only 19.3% tube wells are safe for drinking as the arsenic
concentration is less than 50 µg/l. Lots of people are suffering from arsenic
contamination related complication many have died. Medical facility is very
scarce with no health centre nearby; no regular awareness campaign is done.


Kolsur is within Deganga block. The total area and population of

kolsur are 16.32 sq. km. and 19621 respectively. There are approximately
2400 hand tube wells in Kolsur but arsenic contaminated tube wells are not
demarcated properly. Arsenic contamination in tube well water of Kolsur is
not homogeneously distributed among the villages. Out of total 16 arsenic
purification plants, 13 plants (81%) are not useful. Though the plant wise,
numbers of users are not fixed, we have estimated an average number of
user 200 to 250 people for each plant. The maximum number of user 900 –
1000 persons is and the minimum number of user 60 – 70 persons. Most of
the people belong to lower income group; agriculture, pottery and casual
labor and products of domestic animals are the source of economy. Overall
nutritional level is quite low but people seemed to be aware of the arsenic
related problems and know the measures they have to take. There are a lot of
ponds and wetlands that remains unutilized those can easily work for rain
water harvesting or for water supply.


I] KAMALA MANDAL (Age; 52yrs)


• Have numerous small raindrops like black dispigmentations

allover her body. The extremities of her body specially her feet
and palms are most affected.
• The heels and palms of the patient are rough in nature and boils
on the limbs are highly prominent.
• The finger and toes of the patient are distorted.
• Yellow pigmentations also prominent on palms and toes.
• Keratosis and melanosis formation are highly
prominent(which appears like callused skin protrusions on
palms and soles)
• Loss of appetite and Pain in the pigmented areas.
• Weakness and dizziness.
• Head swiveling is also present in the patient.

Figure shows palms of Kamala Mandal

Kamala Mandal, a vegetable vendor was first detected as a
patient of Arsenic Pollution in the year 1995.She was one of the first
patients brought into limelight of the Arsenic Pollution in the state. She
has undergone several Grafting treatments to give certain amount of
solace to her. Arsenic free water has to be procured from Amol Arsenic
Treatment Plant situated at a distance of 1K.M from her residence .As
she has no other member in her family; she has none to fetch her potable
water from the treatment Plant. Leaving with no other alternative she is
bound to drink the Arsenic contaminated water knowing consciously that
she is consuming slow poison.
She is also complaining of the fact that there is no medical
attention .Many people just come and see their plight but without any
fruitful relief to patients like her.

II] UJJWAL GHOSH (Age; 35yrs)


• Has few black spots on his body but has prominent white
patches allover the body especially on the extremities of the
• The palms show symptoms of melanosis.
• Irritation of the affected area takes place especially at night.
• Symptoms of asthmatic cough is present in the patient.
• Symptoms of Leucomelanosis are visibly distinct in thighs and
lower arms of the patient.
• The patient runs into fits of high temperatures at certain times.
Figure: - (above)-Leg of Ujjwal Ghosh
(below)-Palm of Ujjwal Ghosh

Ujjwal Ghosh was a permanent inhabitant of the area and had
developed symptoms of keratosis and melanosis by consuming Arsenic
Polluted water. Recently he has migrated to Kerala for work and by avoiding
Arsenic contaminated water has shown signs of recovery.
Ujjwal Ghosh is showing signs of Leucomelanosis- a condition in
which patient shows signs of recovery depicted by the white patchy
markings on the affected parts of the body.

III] ARJUN GHOSH (Age; 50yrs)


• Mild black rain drops like pigmentations as well as black

patches are present on the palms and feet of the patient- a
condition of melanosis.
• White patches are prominent –a condition of Leucomelanosis.
• Feeling of extreme weakness and loss of appetite.
• The patient runs into series of high temperatures at certain
• Sensation of pain in the affected areas.
• Suffers from indigestion and diarrhea frequently.

Figure shows palm of Arjun Ghosh



• Have numerous small rain drops like black pigmentations

especially on the extremities of her body like the palms and the
toes. Patient shows condition of melanosis and keratosis.
• Severe soreness in affected areas.
• Loss of appetite.
• Feeling of weakness and dizziness.
• Sensation of extreme neck pain and joint pain especially at
• The surface of the feet is rough in nature and numerous cracks
are observed.

Sandhyarani Ghosh and her husband Arjun Ghosh were diagnosed to
be prone to Arsenic contamination in 1990’s and were advised not to
consume water from their nearby tube well which was detected to discharge
Arsenic contaminated water high beyond permissible limits .
Due to their low socio-economic they cannot afford to consume high
proteinaceous nutritious diet too often. They have visited SSKM Hospital in
Kolkata several times with other affected persons of the region and had
consultations several times but without any fruitful outcome. The last series
of consultations had been more than 5-6 years back. The local Panchayet has
not been supportive.
At present the family is fetching in potable Arsenic free water from
Amol Arsenic Treatment Plant at a distance of 1 KM by producing Govt.
cards. Earlier water used to be delivered at doorstep.
V] PARIMAL BISWAS (Age; 50 yrs)


• No external discernible peculiarities observed in him.

Parimal Biswas belongs to a comparative higher socio-economic
condition as he works in the Post-Office. He can afford himself and his
family with nutritious and proteinaceous diet and being educated he is well
aware of the effects of Arsenic contamination and has avoided the toxic
water of the local tube well. Thus Parimal Biswas and his family have
escaped from the deadly effect of Arsenic Pollution.



• Black patches present on the hands and feet. Numerous rain

drops like pigmentations are also found on the body – a
condition of Keratosis.
• Small yellowish pigmentations present on the palms and feet.
• The feet are exceptionally cracked and deformation of fingers
• Head swiveling is present in the patient.
• Feeling of extreme weakness and awkwardness in the body.
• The patient runs into fits of high fever at certain times of the
year especially in winter.

Figure (above): foot of Laxmi Rani Das

(below): palms of Laxmi Rani Das
Laxmi Rani Das has been suffering from the effects of Arsenic
Pollution for almost 20 years. Her husband Dilip Das has died a few years
back owing to the cumulative effects of Arsenic contamination. She is now
survived by her two sons who work in saw-mill and saloon respectively.
Laxmi Rani Das is forced to drink and utilize the water from the local
tube well being aware that she is consuming poison. She has been
complaining of the fact that there had been no Arsenic free water treatment
plant for safer water nearby forcing the inhabitants to suffer.

II] SUMITA DAS (Age: 37 yrs)


• No external discernible peculiarities observed in her.

Her level of nutrition is better than most of the other village women,
so in spite of consuming arsenic contaminated water for the last 15 years
since her marriage she has not been a prey to the contamination.

I] PHULJAN BIBI (Age: 43 yrs)


• The skin of the fingers has black patches – a condition of

• The fingers are slightly distorted in nature.
• Some white pigmentation is visible on the palms - indicating
the condition of Leucomelanosis.
• Loss of appetite.
• The patient has burning sensation in the affected parts.
• The patient experiences frequent abdominal pain and spurts of

Figure shows palm of Phuljan Bibi


• The patient proclaimed himself to be affected by Arsenic
contamination and claimed to bear signs of keratosis and
melanosis but he was reluctant to show his affected marks.

Phuljan Bibi and her husband Mohammed Ujir Ali Sardar has been
detected to have been affected by Arsenic contamination for the last 10-12
years to a large extent and they are well aware of the fact that water used for
drinking and cooking purposes is the reason behind the grave concern.
Phuljan Bibi told she utilized water from the ponds for cooking purposes and
water from the treatment plant for drinking purposes in her family.
Mohammed Ujir Ali Sardar is a cycle van puller and the socio-economic
condition of the family is extremely poor to meet both ends meet.

III] GULNAHAR BIBI (Age: 30-35 yrs)


• Symptoms of Leucomelanosis and melanosis observed.

• Loss of appetite.
• Feeling of general weakness.
• Indigestion present.
• Pain in the joints.

She has been suffering from arsenic pollution since the last 15 years
and the effects of arsenic contamination have been manifested due to her
intake of food of lower nutritional value.
After a thorough survey of the Deganga Block of North 24-Parganas it
has been observed that the region the inhabitants are well aware of the
Arsenic Pollution in the region and the acute and chronic effect of the
contamination on their health due to continuous exposure. At least 170
people has died in entire North 24=Parganas Dist. Due to Arsenic related
complications , but nothing significant work has been done to mitigate the
There is only one Arsenic Treatment Plant (ARP) in the region which
is made to cater to the needs of all the
inhabitants of the region. The Plant
actually fails to supply pure potable water
to the vast population.
Though the villagers are well aware
of the enormity of the Arsenic Pollution in
the region, they find it considerably
difficult to fetch water from the Plant from
their distant houses situated about 1 K.M
or more from the Plant. Most villagers of
Kolsur and Aripara have been observed to
utilize the water from nearby contaminated
tube wells for drinking and cooking
It has been found scientifically that
the only viable remedy to curb the Arsenic
pollution outburst is to discontinue the
The Arsenic Treatment Plant in the region usage of Arsenic contaminated water. It has
been found during the survey that Ujjwal
Ghosh who has been a permanent resident of the region had contaminated
the pollution and showed signs of melanosis and keratosis, but recently he
has migrated to Kerala and by avoiding arsenic contaminated water he has
escaped from the pollution and has started showing signs of recovery
revealed by the whitening of the black spots of keratosis. At present the
person is showing signs of Leucomelanosis- a stage of recovery.
According to the villagers the local Panchayet authorities are aware
that the tube wells are discharging arsenic contaminated water and the filters
of the Arsenic Treatment Plants are not functional but no significant steps
has been mitigated for their safety.
Also it has been revealed during the survey that the nutritional level of
the individual is related to the subject’s resistance to the effects of
contamination. As most of the villagers are extremely poor and live hand
mouth, the effects of the Arsenic pollution are vividly revealed in patients
like Kamala Mandal, Sandhya Rani Ghosh, Laxmi Rani Das, Phuljan Bibi
and others.
The ill effects of the contamination can be surmounted if the villagers

Vast tracts of water bodies in the region

can be encouraged in utilizing the vast tracts of surface water of the

adjoining ponds and canals for everyday use of cooking and drinking
purposes and planned utilization of rainwater for harvesting of crops and for
everyday uses are encouraged.

To combat the present arsenic crisis, we urgently need the following:

• The mouths of the safe tube wells must be colored green and the
unsafe ones red so that the villagers can use green tube wells for
drinking and cooking, and red tube wells for bathing,
washing, toilet, etc.The safe tube wells should be tested
for arsenic every 3–6 months.
Change of drinking habits and source of drinking
water is the chief tool to combating arsenic problem.
People in the arsenic affected areas must be made aware
of the hazards of drinking contaminated water.

A tube well without any warning

• If alternate source with safe water is not available, treated water may
be used. Sedimentation of contaminated water over night and treatment of
contaminated water with copper sulphate (fitkari) can remove arsenic.
Boiling of water is to be avoided as this converts organic forms into
inorganic forms which are comparatively more harmful.

• Abstraction of groundwater for irrigation purposes must be regulated.

Immediate development of surface water and conjunctive use of surface and
ground water must be ensured. To combat the situation watershed
management, finding alternate source of drinking water and awareness
campaigns at grassroots level are needed urgently.

• Disposal of the arsenic waste must be done very carefully. If the

arsenic water is randomly disposed; it can create further havoc by
contaminating water sources. The sediment-rich water left at the bottom of
the sedimentation or flocculation processing container should be poured into
cow dung, leaves of arum plant, water hyacinth, cabbage, etc for
detoxification (arsenic is converted into methyl acid, and then evaporates

• It is well established that shallow tube wells in arsenic contaminated

areas may not be safe. It is also observed that in the Gangetic plain As
contamination in hand tube wells has been observed to decrease after
a certain depth but in unconfined aquifers there appears to be no depth
guarantee, even if the construction of tube well is done properly.
Deep tube wells (>150m) may not always provide safe source of drinking
water. Safety of deep tube wells depends on several factors: 1) construction
of the deep tube well, 2) depth of the deep tube well 3) presence of confined
aquifer, and 4) the aquifer should be under a thick clay barrier. (Chakraborti, 2003)

 In many states of India and southern parts of Bangladesh, the harvesting

of rainwater is still a common practice. In present scenario if rainwater is
harvested through clean roof top collection into storage tanks, and
precautions are taken against bacterial contamination, the stored rainwater
can be used for at least 4-5 months per year. In arsenic affected areas of
Thailand this is a common practice. The rain water thus collected can be
used for agriculture, for cooking and drinking.
 With proper treatment against bacterial and other contaminations and
proper management of available surface water may hold the key to safe
potable water for the inhabitants of the region where per capita available
surface water is huge from the adjoining ponds and canals.

 The water of the canal can be directly used for irrigation instead of tube

 The number of Arsenic Treatment Plants should be increased and

measures should be taken that the kits remain functional throughout the year.

 As there is no available medicine for chronic arsenic toxicity; safe water,

nutritious food, vitamins and physical exercise are the only preventive
measures to fight the chronic arsenic toxicity. Plenty of seasonal fruits and
vegetables, which are very cheap, are available in arsenic affected villages
around the GMB plain round the year. A large percentage of villagers are
not aware that they can get better nutrition from local fruits and vegetables.
They have to be trained how they can get nutritious food using cheap local
fruits and vegetables. Cooking also destroys essential nutrients in vegetables
and fruits, so the villagers should be encouraged to consume fresh
vegetables and pulses.

 Through community development the villagers need to be properly

educated about:
a) the danger of arsenic in drinking water
b) the necessity of arsenic safe water
c) the options at hand and finding a viable option amongst them
d) explaining in simple way how the process works with help of
diagrams without technical jargons
e) Importance of periodical checking of treated water for arsenic.
f) Social mobilization through discussions
g) Equality in Gender participation
h) Improve the community’s understanding about the participatory
i) An agreement with the community to share the expenses.
j) Importance of keeping updated on quality of treated water in terms of
arsenic and other contaminants as found out from periodical testing.
The results of periodical testing may be passed on to the villagers
through effective campaigning.
During our visit to the Deganga Block of North 24 Parganas to have a
first hand knowledge of the effect of Arsenic contamination we were
tremendously helped by a lot of persons who voluntarily came forward for
our cause.
We are also thankful to Mr. Ashok Das (a NGO person) who is
fighting for the benefit of the affected masses.
We are also grateful to Mr.Arunangso Bhattacharya (reporter of Ananda
Bazar Patrika) for guiding us and providing valuable inputs on the subject.
Finally our thanks go to our professors and college staffs for guiding
us to do this field study.