Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Rice adding to arsenic toxicity in Bangladesh
  • Rice adding to arsenic toxicity in Bangladesh

Copyright: Flickr / IRRI

Speed read

  • Drinking water not the only source of arsenic poisoning

  • Rice grown in contaminated water adds to toxic burden

  • Arsenic content in different food crops needs evaluation

Shares
[DHAKA] Steamed rice, the staple of most Bangladeshi people, may be a source of arsenic poisoning apart from contaminated drinking water, a new study shows.

The findings of the study, published in PLoS One on 15 November, confirm similar initial leads offered by smaller-scale studies in the past.

The study, the largest yet, analysed extensive data gathered between 2000 and 2002 on the health effects of arsenic poisoning in over 18,000 people in the arsenic-contaminated area of Araihazar near Dhaka.

Specifically, the study looked at the link between rice consumption and skin lesions, as well as the presence of arsenic and its breakdown products in urine samples of volunteers.

According to the study, arsenic intake through drinking water may “overshadow” the potential impact of exposure from rice in areas where arsenic content in the drinking water is high. In other areas rice is the major route for arsenic poisoning, it says.

Habibul Ahsan, director of the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, University of Chicago  and lead author of the study, tells SciDev.Net, that since Bangladeshi people are already exposed to arsenic-laced drinking water they “should consider reducing their heavy reliance on steamed rice and  diversify their diet by adding other affordable grains and vegetables that do not absorb arsenic.”

According to Mahmudur Rahman, chief coordinator, Dhaka Community Hospital, since 95 per cent of groundwater is currently used for irrigation and non-drinking purposes, the problem of arsenic poisoning goes far beyond drinking water.

“There is an urgent need for wider investigation of arsenic in other food (crops) in Bangladesh,” Rahman says.

Parvez Haris, head of the biomedical and environmental health group at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, and a co-author, says, “The higher the amount of contaminated (arsenic) rice people consumed, the higher the risks of toxicity.”

Sharmeen Murshid, chief executive officer of the NGO, Brotee, says the study points to several new policy directions. “It is time that the government screens which rice varieties are safe for consumption.”

Link to report in PLoS One


Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.