Emergency Water Supply: Arsenic Removal Filters?
Or Use of Tubewells in Wet season and Dugwells and River Waters in Dry Season?
On February 2, 2007,Washington Post journalist Mr. Rick Weiss in the article entitled “GMU Teacher's Ingenuity Nets $1 Million Prize” stated that "Hussam came to the United States in 1978 as a college teaching assistant. He earned his citizenship, received a doctorate in analytical chemistry and then devoted much of his career to finding a simple solution to a massive problem inadvertently caused by international aid agencies. For decades, institutions had funded a huge campaign to dig simple wells in Eastern India and Bangladesh, bringing fresh groundwater to millions of subsistence farmers and others who had been drinking from ponds and mudholes that teemed with disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
What those agencies did not know was that groundwater in that region has some of the world's highest naturally occurring concentrations of arsenic, a potent poison. So, although the new wells produced a steep decline in infectious diseases, they also gave rise to an epidemic of arsenic-induced skin ailments and, over time, fatal cancers of the lungs, bladder and kidneys. "I myself and all my brothers were drinking this water," said Hussam, whose family had two of the now infamous shallow "tube wells" in the agricultural district of Kushtia, where he grew up -- one in the kitchen and the other in the yard, both operated by hand pumps.
His family members remained healthy, Hussam said, perhaps because they had a nutritious diet, which can help stem the ill effects that typically accumulate over a decade or more of arsenic ingestion."
We would like to inform the people of Bangladesh and the scientific communities around the world that, from the geo-scientific standpoint, no international agency such as UNICEF, UNDP,WHO and others is responsible for causing arsenic disaster in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India.
We strongly disagree with Dr. Hussam's above statement regarding the presence of arsenic in poisonous form in groundwater of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. We have not seen any geological, hydrological, hydrogeological and geochemical data and evidences that support the presence of arsenic poisoning prior to 1975 in Bangladesh and prior to 1960 in West Bengal of India.
Groundwater arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh began after 1975 and in West Bengal of India after 1960. Over pumping of groundwater and harvesting of river waters in the upstream territory of India by building dams/barrages on the Ganges, the Tista, and 28 other common rivers of Bangladesh and India (international rivers) for the last several decades are the roots of groundwater arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. Besides the abstraction of groundwater and diversion of surface water from the common rivers of Bangladesh and India no other human or natural cause is known to have occurred in Bangladesh that could have destabilized the arsenic bearing minerals present in the sediments and brought about a significant geochemical change in the sediments and groundwater in the Bengal basin.
In order to examine the both reduction(thousands of years old natural disaster) and oxidation mechanism(recent man made disaster) theories for the mobilization of arsenic into groundwater in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India, we requested the proponents of Natural disaster theory to answer the following questions:
1. If the Oxyhydroxide Reduction hypothesis(natural disaster) proposed by (BGS) is correct and if arsenic was present in an adsorbed form on iron hydroxide for thousands of years and existed in a solution for thousands of years in the aquifer groundwater of the Bengal Basin without being flushed out to sea, how did the people of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India avoid the arsenic poisoning when thousands of people drank water from dug wells for thousands of years and from thousands of tube wells for 60 to 70 years, prior to the 1970s? 2. How did millions of people in Bangladesh who had been drinking water from millions of tube wells during the interval between the 1960's and prior to 1975, before the construction of dams/barrages and diversion of surface water by India from the Ganges, the Tista, and 28 other common rivers of Bangladesh and India, lack signs of arsenic poisoning?"
The available data, in consistent with the hydrogeochemical changes of the delta, brought about by the anthropogenic activities of making shortage of recharging water following upstream diversion of surface water and the consequent enforcing of the downstream people to be over-dependent on groundwater, reject the Natural hypothesis as the main cause for the mobilization of arsenic into groundwater for the following reasons:
1. The lag time for the development of arsenic lesion(karatosis, melanosis etc) in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India according to S.K. Shaha varies from 2-5 years, according to DPHE/BGS/DFID 10 years and according to other investigators around the world the lag time varies from 8-14 years. 2. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, prior to 1975 and 1960 there was no significant abstraction of groundwater occurred. Extensive use of groundwater in Bangladesh started after 1975 where as in West Bengal it started after 1960. 3. Prior to 1960 both in Bangladesh and West Bengal millions of infants, young and old people drank water from thousands of dug wells for thousands of years. 4. According to DPHE, in 1948 there were 50,000 tube wells in Bangladesh and according to Dipankar Chakrabortti there were 50,000 tube wells in West Bengal in use from which millions of people drank water from these tube wells. 5. In order to establish the groundwater arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh as a natural disaster, DPHE/BGS investigators presented pre-1975 hydrological data of three major rivers of Bangladesh but they did not include post-Farakka/post-1975 data of any rivers of Bangladesh despite of our repeated request. 6. DPHE/BGS investigators presented only five groundwater hydrographs but have failed to present pre-Farakka/pre-1975 data. They mentioned significant draw down of water table in Bangladesh and presented some hydrograph of groundwater level of Dhaka, Bogra, Jessore, Joydebpur and Kishoreganj (DPHE/BGS, 1998a, 2001b). 7. DPHE/BGS investigators conducted mineralogical study only in three "hot spot" location based on only a small number of samples of 55, 000 Sq.miles of Bangladesh and reported the absence of arsenopyrite minerals. However, they reported the presence of pyrite minerals in the sediments, but did not investigate the conditions for the absence of arsenic bearing minerals in the "neo-oxidation zone" that was created after 1975. They did not map the vertical and aerial extent of the "neo-oxidation zone" in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. 8. In West Bengal the people poisoned by arsenic were first detected in 1985 and in Bangladesh in 1994. 9. DPHE/BGS investigators did not investigate the pre-and post-Farakka surface water and groundwater relationship in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India.
Prior to 1990's and 1980's people of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India never suffered from arsenic related diseases.
The above data/explanation evidently support that the groundwater arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India is a recent environmental problem which is related to the recent over abstraction of groundwater and harvesting of river water in the upstream region of India, and that the “recent oxidation and subsequent reduction” of arsenic minerals is the plausible mechanism for the mobilization of arsenic into groundwater.
Based on hydrological, hydrogeological, geochemical, historical medical data, historical groundwater use data from dug wells and tube wells, and arsenic toxicity data, we would like to inform Dr. Hussam that neither he nor any one of his family members drank arsenic poison water prior to 1975. Moreover Dr. Hussam does not have any reliable data to justify the validity of the source, cause and solution to the problem.
For thousands of years Prior to 1975 and before the construction of dams/barrages by India and India's unilateral diversion of surface water from the Ganges, the Tista, and 28 other common rivers of Bangladesh and India, the people of Bangladesh drank groundwater from thousands of dug wells. If arsenic were present in poison form into ground water people would have been poisoned by arsenic poisoning, because the source of dug wells is groundwater. It may have been diluted by surface water and the addition of dissolved oxygen may have caused precipitation of some of the arsenic and dissolved iron.
The Farakka barrage was built in the Ganges river and was commissioned in 1975. Millions of tube wells were installed between the mid sixties and seventies before the commission of the Farakka barrage. During these ten years, million of infants, children, and adults drank water from the same tube wells. During that time in Bangladesh no arsenic related diseases were known. If any arsenic related diseases were developed at that time, doctors would have diagnosed the diseases as eczema or any other skin disorder because of their lack of knowledge and experience, regarding arsenic related diseases. By prescribing the wrong medication and treatments, they could not cure the deadly arsenic related diseases at that time. If the arsenic poisoning was present in Bangladesh prior to 1975 before the construction of Farakka and other dams in the common rivers of Bangladesh and India, we would have seen the people of Bangladesh suffering from arsenic diseases prior to 1975.
We know from Dr. Shaha's survey in the West Bengal that the lag time for the appearance of arsenic disease is two to five years and according to Allen Smith and others it is about 10 years. People of Bangladesh and West Bengal have similar physical conditions, their food habits and intake of water are similar. If groundwater arsenic poisoning was present in Bangladesh prior to 1975, then millions of tube well water users between 1965 and 1975 would have certainly been poisoned by arsenic.
Ten years is an adequate time for the appearance of arsenic diseases on the people of Bangladesh. The youngest arsenic poisoned patient detected in Bangladesh was Baby Jamil, an eighteen months old infant. If knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated professionals survey arsenic poisoned patients in the community, they will find none of the people were poisoned prior to 1975. In fact Mr. Fariduddin, a professional health engineer of DPHE, in his article In Quest of Safe Water for Rural Bangladesh, stated: "Groundwater of Bangladesh contain arsenic was known to the community only in 1994. The patients with arsenic pollution were initially detected in the bordering area of Bangladesh with primary initiative of Dhaka Community Hospital and NIPSOM. Increasing numbers of patients have been identified through limited field survey with the assistance of UNDP and Ministry of Health. The Department of Public Health Engineering also initiated water sampling program through four zonal laboratories with assistance of WHO / UNICEF/ DFID since 1994."
Arsenic-poisoned patients were first discovered in Bangladesh in the early 1994 and in West Bengal in the early 1985. The historical medical evidence supports a recent origin for the mobilization of arsenic into the groundwater of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. In our articles we have explained how arsenic pyrite oxidation is one mechanism that could be adding arsenic to the groundwater as a result of change in water table levels.
Those scientists who have been promoting that the arsenic disaster in Bangladesh is a natural disaster, and that the poisoning has been present for thousands of years and that Oxyhydroxide reduction is the principal cause for releasing arsenic into groundwater are mainly based on incorrect, inadequate as well as false data. We do not know why they are doing so, but we can tell that is the fact of arsenic disaster in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. We would like to inform everyone that the SONO and other arsenic removal filters and indiscriminate disposal of arsenic wastes from these filters on the open ground, in underground, rivers, ponds, lakes, khal, bill, doba, khad and other low lying areas are creating graveyards for the current and future generations. The govt. of Bangladesh was misguided by the promoters of arsenic removal filters and some other scientists regarding the arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh and as a result they probably have accepted Dr. Hussam's improper disposal method. We do not think any EPA professional would approve such improper arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh and in other countries.
As experienced professionals we believe that in order protect the current and future generations, ecosystem and environment, we have to analyze all available remedial methods immediately and implement the best, environmentally friendly water supply systems in Bangladesh.
Solution to the arsenic problem:Before developing a permanent solution to the problem, we believe govt. of Bangladesh, West Bengal of India and Nepal should immediately implement the following emergency water supply projects:
1. During wet season, the people of the above mentioned nations can abstract arsenic free water from above the "arsenic contaminated zone". They can abstract and enjoy arsenic free water for about 6-7 months by using tubewells from the existing well in the arsenic contaminated areas. In that case they need to pull the casing up and set the well screen about3-5 feet above the arsenic contaminated zone. So during wet season, people of the arsenic affected areas will not have to deal with groundwater arsenic contamination at all. During wet season people should not use arsenic removal filters at all, because the water above the arsenic contaminated zone is free of arsenic poisoning. The municipal water supply units also generate a large volume of arsenic sludge. During wet season they can also abstract arsenic free water from above the contaminated zone and thus reduce the amount of arsenic toxic sludge by 50-60% than the past and present time. We think this is a best solution for 6-7 months in arsenic contaminated areas. 2. During dry season, the people can use river waters. The low turbidity river water can be filtered through charcoal filter and disinfected by chlorination process. This method has been successfully using in all water treatment units and emergency water supply projects every where in the world. This method is safe in all respects. 3. During wet and dry season people can also abstract arsenic free waters from dug wells even in the arsenic contaminated areas. It is important to note that the dug wells are not free of arsenic contamination where tube wells are found to be highly contaminated at the same depth. Dug wells waters are low in arsenic concentration due to it's bigger diameter and atmospheric oxidation helps to precipitate arsenic with iron. Whereas in tube wells oxidation process is very slow due to it's small diameter and as a result tubewells are found to be highly contaminated. If large volume of water is abstracted on a daily basis from dug wells without any proper protection, after a certain period of time the dug well waters will show high concentration of arsenic, because the source of dug wells and tube wells is groundwater. However with proper protection, arsenic free water can be abstracted from dug wells in arsenic contaminated areas.
In this process arsenic waste will remain at the bottom of the dug wells and thus it will reduce/stop the risk of re-contamination of air, soil and sediments, surface and groundwater resources as well as agricultural resources. In developed countries, pathogenic organisms in surface water and dug well water that cause various types of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea etc. are no longer a problem due to proper water protection, treatment and monitoring. The govt. of Bangladesh, West Bengal and Nepal can effectively abstract arsenic free water from dugwells round the year. We are conducting research to find a better way of abstracting bacteria free and arsenic free water from dug wells in arsenic contaminated areas.
4. Arsenic removal filters including SONO filters are the last option, because disposal of arsenic waster is very expensive. Improper disposal causes air pollution, contamination of soil and sediments, surface and groundwater, aquatic organisms, agricultural resources etc. The geological, hydrological, hydrogeological and hydro-metereological as well as socio-economic conditions are not suitable for the construction and maintaining a modern sanitary landfill for properly disposing arsenic sludges from the arsenic removal filters and treatment units. The over pumping of groundwater creates arsenic poisoning at the subsurface, and the removal and disposal of arsenic wastes causes numerous problems at the surface. Dr. Hussam has a great difficulty in understanding and using the term TCLP and TCLP test data and as a result he has been advocating that the Sono filter does not generate toxic waste. We will thoroughly examine Dr. Hussam's misinterpretation and misconception of TCLP test data.
We will also examine his Sono filter's waste disposal method in Bangladesh. This is a very serious scientific issue and as a result his arsenic waste disposal method must be examined as soon as possible. We as experienced professionals in dealing with numerous contaminated projects are respectfully requesting the arsenic filter users not to dispose arsenic waste from Sono and other filters on the ground, in the rivers, lakes, ponds and other low lying areas as suggested by Dr. Hussam. Those users who have already disposed of arsenic sludge/wastes improperly, should collect the wastes and contain it in a secured location until permanent solutions are figured out. Those who have clean and good tubewell waters , should share the water with their neighbors. The arsenic removal by filters is not a good solution/process in the context of the geological, hydrological, hydrogeological, hydrometreological and socio-economic conditions of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Nepal as well as Vietnam.
5. The permanent solution is to develop a centralized water treatment and distribution system for each rural and city areas. The treatment and distribution system can use both surface and groundwater. The centralized distribution system is environmentally friendly, well monitored, long lasting and in the long run it is economic (please see the article:Arsenic Disaster in Bangladesh-An Urgent Call to Save a Nation, by Bridge & Husain,1998). The govt. of Bangladesh, West Bengal of India, Nepal and Vietnam should engage appropriate and experienced professionals for collecting reliable data, develop and implement a centralized treatment and distribution system. They should not waste their time and money by engaging inappropriate and inexperienced professionals and implementing unreliable systems.
On June 17, 2007, we requested Dr. Hussam to share with us the sound hydro-meteorological, hydrological, hydrogeological, geochemical, and geological data that support his arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh. We have not received any data from him as of yet. We will share the evaluation of Sono and other arsenic removal filters, misinterpretation of TCLP data by Dr. Hussam and others, and the indiscriminate disposal of arsenic wastes/spent materials from the arsenic removal filters in Bangladesh with the govt. of Bangladesh, NAE,USEPA and scientific communities as soon as possible.
Respectfully, Meer Husain,P.G. Professional Geologist Kansas Dept. of Health & Environment And Adjunct Faculty Cowley County Community College Wichita, Kansas, USA. Miah M. Adel, Ph.D. Professor, Physics & Interdisciplinary Sciences University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, USA. Mahbub Alam, Ph.D. Professor, Extension Irrigation Specialist Biological and Agricultural Engineering Kansas State University Southwest Research and Extension Center Garden City, Kansas, USA.(News From Bangladesh, August 01, 2007).