Millions of Bangladeshis poisoned by arsenic-laced water

A fifth of all deaths in Bangladesh are linked to drinking water contaminated by arsenic, while up to 77 million people - half the population - have been chronically exposed to the poisonous metalloid, according to a new study published in the Lancet medical journal.

Researchers tracked 12,000 people over a period of 10 years, taking urine samples every two years and analysing water from 6,000 wells to detect arsenic, confirming what the World Health Organization warned of a decade ago when it predicted “a major increase in the number of cases of diseases caused by arsenic if the population continues to drink arsenic-contaminated water".

A decades-old programme of digging tube wells to reach what was thought to be clean drinking water is being cited as the cause of the mass poisoning, says the report.

Arsenic contamination of ground water is thought to affect 140 million people around the world, including in Thailand, China and the USA. “The need for a global response is apparent because the situation goes far beyond the Bangladesh borders,” said Columbia University’s Joseph Graziano, who led the team of researchers.