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Environ Int. 2011 Feb;37(2):435-42. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2010.11.006. Epub 2010 Dec 4.

Health risks from large-scale water pollution: trends in Central Asia.

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Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Svante Arrhenius väg 8C, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.


Limited data on the pollution status of spatially extensive water systems constrain health-risk assessments at basin-scales. Using a recipient measurement approach in a terminal water body, we show that agricultural and industrial pollutants in groundwater-surface water systems of the Aral Sea Drainage Basin (covering the main part of Central Asia) yield cumulative health hazards above guideline values in downstream surface waters, due to high concentrations of copper, arsenic, nitrite, and to certain extent dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). Considering these high-impact contaminants, we furthermore perform trend analyses of their upstream spatial-temporal distribution, investigating dominant large-scale spreading mechanisms. The ratio between parent DDT and its degradation products showed that discharges into or depositions onto surface waters are likely to be recent or ongoing. In river water, copper concentrations peak during the spring season, after thawing and snow melt. High spatial variability of arsenic concentrations in river water could reflect its local presence in the top soil of nearby agricultural fields. Overall, groundwaters were associated with much higher health risks than surface waters. Health risks can therefore increase considerably, if the downstream population must switch to groundwater-based drinking water supplies during surface water shortage. Arid regions are generally vulnerable to this problem due to ongoing irrigation expansion and climate changes.

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