SITE VISIT: Arsenic Dilemma

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Science  09 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5472, pp. 1699
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5472.1699c

Arsenic, a favorite poison in Victorian novels, today poses a vexing global water pollution problem. In the United States, for instance, federal officials last month proposed clamping down on arsenic in drinking water supplies even while acknowledging that many communities can't afford to remove the carcinogen. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh and west Bengal, India, wells heavily tainted with arsenic have led to a massive health catastrophe—the slow poisoning of at least 70 million people.

The Arsenic Website Project, run by Harvard University risk expert Richard Wilson, brims with articles and links probing this complex environmental problem. You can learn how the metal leaches into water from both natural and humanmade sources, such as mine tailings and obsolete pesticides. The site also notes arsenic's paradoxical nature: It was long used in medicines and can reportedly cure a form of leukemia. But long-term exposure can cause cancer and, in Bangladesh, poisoned villagers develop painful skin lesions, depicted here with shocking photos. Click to get arsenic updates for 18 countries, or pull up maps, reports, and conference proceedings. Another section lays out schemes for providing Bangladeshis with safe drinking water, from filtering well water to switching to other sources.∼wilson/arsenic.html

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