Bihar is facing one of the gravest natural disasters in the form of arsenic contamination of ground water. In the first detailed study of ground water quality, the Department of Environment and Water Management, A.N.College, Patna, has already submitted Interim Reports to PHED and UNICEF about the alarming findings on arsenic poisoning cases in the districts of Patna, Bhojpur, Vaishali and Bhagalpur. The study was conducted from April 2004 to May 2006, the study area being confined to 10 kms. wide belt along the Ganga river as per the instructions of PHED and UNICEF.
According to Dr.Ashok Ghosh, Principal Investigator of Project Arsenic, Dept. Of EWM, A.N.College, these findings are just the tip of the iceberg, as more contaminated aquifers are waiting to be detected in the remaining parts of the state. The water quality testing was done initially by Field Test Kits and then confirmed by AAS or UV Spectrophotometric tests. Epidemiological studies indicate that drinking water having more than permissible arsenic levels of 10 ppb. increases the mortality rates as arsenic is a bio-accumulative toxin.
Persons suffering from arsenicosis have not yet responded to known treatment procedures. The high the intake of arsenic, along with under nourishment and lack of medical help have worsened the lives of the population in the arsenic affected rural areas. Arsenic can also contaminate standing food crops if it is present in the soil and soil water. As Bihar Plains are highly fertile and its crops are marketed to many distant places, apart from being locally consumed, it becomes imperative to test the levels of arsenic in the food chain too. What is worrisome is that arsenic contaminated ground water tables have abrupt occurrences both over time and space. This explains why a public hand pump in village Ramnager in Maner tested 30 ppb. in the post monsoon period and more than 60 ppb. in the month of May. Also arsenic manifestation exists at different levels in different areas. In north-west Maner, arsenic contaminated hand pumps have a shallow depth of between 60 to 80 feet in the diara belt.
In Bhojpur, the depth of contaminated aquifers goes down to 150 feet away from new diara land, while in Vaishali, arsenic is found in the shallow and middle aquifers at an average distance of 5 km. away from the river bank. Regular monitoring of drinking water from hand pumps is immediately required as a part of the mitigation strategy. Patna, the first district to be covered, revealed pockets of high arsenic contamination, above the acceptable limit of 10 ppb., in 171 villages in Maner, Danapur, Sampatchak, Barh, Bakhtiarpur, , Fatuha, Khusrupur, Phulwari, Mokama, Pandarak and Patna City.
1060 village hand pumps were arsenic contaminated The highest AAS reading of arsenic level in government hand pump water is 724 ppb. in village Naikatola in Maner, 450 ppb. in Kasimchak village in Danapur, 553 ppb. in Ghiaspur Mahazi and 538 ppb. in Kala Diara, Bakhtiarpur,, and 484 ppb. in Malahi Banda village in Barh. Sampatchak Block has low contamination levels of below 50 ppb. over a larger area in most of the villages. In Bhojpur, the highest AAS test readings are 1861 ppb. and 1064 ppb. in Pandey tola, Barhara Block, a situation far more serious than the one represented by the much-touted village Ojhapatti of Shahpur Block. Out of the 6292 hand pumps tested, 47.70 % were arsenic contaminated hand pumps. In Barhara, 62.84%, in Udwantnagar 59.39%, in Shahpur 40.41%, in Behea 37.17%, in Koilwar, 29.20%, and in Ara 25.88% of Block level hand pumps were arsenic contaminated. In Vaishali, all the Blocks covered within 10 km. along the Ganga banks, has low level arsenic contamination at present.
The study by Bihar's Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) reveals that the average arsenic content in drinking water in the 12 districts is 500 parts per billion (ppb). The state capital, Patna, is among the affected areas.