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Environ Geochem Health. 1996 Mar;18(1):5-15. doi: 10.1007/BF01757214.

Arsenic in groundwater in six districts of West Bengal, India.

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  • 1School of Environmental Studies, Jadavpur University, 700032, Calcutta, India.


Arsenic in groundwater above the WHO maximum permissible limit of 0.05 mg l(-1) has been found in six districts of West Bengal covering an area of 34 000 km(2) with a population of 30 million. At present, 37 administrative blocks by the side of the River Ganga and adjoining areas are affected. Areas affected by arsenic contamination in groundwater are all located in the upper delta plain, and are mostly in the abandoned meander belt. More than 800 000 people from 312 villages/wards are drinking arsenic contaminated water and amongst them at least 175 000 people show arsenical skin lesions. Thousands of tube-well water in these six districts have been analysed for arsenic species. Hair, nails, scales, urine, liver tissue analyses show elevated concentrations of arsenic in people drinking arsenic-contaminated water for a longer period. The source of the arsenic is geological. Bore-hole sediment analyses show high arsenic concentrations in only few soil layers which is found to be associated with iron-pyrites. Various social problems arise due to arsenical skin lesions in these districts. Malnutrition, poor socio-economic conditions, illiteracy, food habits and intake of arsenic-contaminated water for many years have aggravated the arsenic toxicity. In all these districts, major water demands are met from groundwater and the geochemical reaction, caused by high withdrawal of water may be the cause of arsenic leaching from the source. If alternative water resources are not utilised, a good percentage of the 30 million people of these six districts may suffer from arsenic toxicity in the near future.

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