Arsenic poisoning affects millions of people worldwide, nearly three million of whom live in China. In the country's Guizhou province, arsenic poisoning is caused not by tainted water — as it often is elsewhere — but by arsenic-rich, low-cost coal or 'briquette' used by its inhabitants for cooking and heating.
In this Xinhuanet article, Rong Jiaojiao reports on the efforts of the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), the local health authority and the Chinese government in reducing arsenic poisoning in the area.
Because most of the villagers' old stoves have no chimney, the lack of ventilation means their houses fill with arsenic-laden smoke. The local custom of drying food such as corn and peppers also contaminates the food with arsenic. On average, a villager in the province can consume up to 98 times the 'safe' value of arsenic.
Ending arsenic poisoning in Guizhou, reports Rong, will need chimneys to be installed and an estimated three million stoves changed. But these efforts will only be successful if they are affordable — arsenic-free coal is nearly seven times more expensive than briquette — and accompanied by practical solutions, such as ways to block rain from entering the chimneys. Adequate training will also be vital to ensure that measures implemented are used correctly.
The Chinese government claims that by 2010, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals, everyone at risk of arsenic poisoning will have access to safe water and stoves.