Geologists help Indians identify contaminated water sources to fight arsenic poisoning

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Washington, October 23 (ANI): Geologists studying groundwater arsenic levels in India are empowering Bengalis by helping them identify contaminated water sources so they can make more informed decisions about where to dig wells as they look for cleaner water.

"When going into a foreign land, you need the common people's help, support and understanding of the work you are doing," said Saugata Datta, a Kansas State University assistant professor of geology.

Datta's research examines arsenic levels in the groundwater in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.

According to Datta, the effects of arsenic in groundwater aren't apparent immediately, but rather build up over time. It causes skin lesions and skin cancer that spreads to other parts of the body. It can lead to paralysis and organ failure.

In his quest to understand how and why the naturally occurring arsenic gets into groundwater, Datta is helping Bengalis identify contaminated water sources so they can make more informed decisions about where to dig wells as they look for cleaner water.

At K-State, Datta is joined by Andrew Neal, a master's student in geology from Byron.

"We are targeting the women and children 13 to 15 years old, because they are the most available people, more so than the men of the family," Datta said.

"These women are not formally educated, but when it comes to this type of suffering, they have a huge voice and they can really articulate the message very clearly to their neighbors and their own families," he added.

The researchers give women and children information about how sediment traits like color and texture may indicate arsenic contamination.

They also arm them with arsenic testing kits to use when wells are being drilled in their communities.

If these water testing kits indicate high levels of arsenic, they can send a sample to a laboratory in the city for further testing before more contaminated water is distributed to the community.

These tests are being done for both shallow and deep aquifers in those districts.

Although much research and action has been done to mitigate arsenic contamination in Bangladesh, the researchers said the process has been slower in India.

"They are very nice people in West Bengal, but when you talk to them you see that they are very frustrated," Neal said.

"They want to have some way of knowing how they can get rid of this problem. They want to know where to get clean water to drink so their kids don't get sick," he added. (ANI)

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