Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Arsenic Contamination in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Arsenic Poisoning

Mains level: Not Much


Central Idea: A recent peer-reviewed study suggests that even low levels of arsenic consumption can affect cognitive function in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Arsenic Contamination

  • Arsenic is a highly toxic element naturally present in the environment.
  • Contaminated water, particularly groundwater, is a major source of arsenic exposure.
  • Long-term arsenic exposure can lead to various health issues, including cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, and negative impacts on cognitive development.

Menace in India

  • Arsenic contamination in groundwater is one of the most crippling issues in the drinking water scenario of India.
  • According to the latest report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 21 states across the country have pockets with arsenic levels higher than the BIS stipulated permissible limit of 0.01 milligram per litre (mg/l).
  • The states along the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam — are the worst affected by this human-amplified geogenic occurrence.
  • In India, arsenic contamination was first officially confirmed in West Bengal in 1983.
  • Close to four decades after its detection, the scenario has worsened.
  • About 9.6 million people in West Bengal, 1.6 million in Assam, 1.2 million in Bihar, 0.5 million in Uttar Pradesh and 0.013 million in Jharkhand are at immediate risk from arsenic contamination in groundwater.

Key findings of the recent study

(1) Arsenic impact on behaviour

  • The study found that individuals exposed to arsenic had reduced grey matter and weaker connections within key regions of the brain associated with cognitive functions.
  • Chronic exposure to arsenic could have significant consequences at a population level, leading to increased school failures, diminished economic productivity, and higher risks of criminal and antisocial behavior.

(2) Arsenic Exposure and Socioeconomic Factors

  • As previous studies have shown, arsenic exposure is particularly harmful to the poor.
  • The recent study reaffirms that economically and nutritionally disadvantaged individuals experience greater cognitive impairment from arsenic exposure.
  • The impact of arsenic on impairing cognition is more pronounced at a collective level rather than at an individual level.

Government Initiatives to address Arsenic Contamination

  • Governments in Bihar and West Bengal have taken steps to address arsenic contamination since the 1990s.
  • Strategies include promoting piped water access, installing arsenic removal plants, and encouraging groundwater extraction from deeper aquifers with lower arsenic levels.
  • The goal is to minimize arsenic exposure and mitigate its health impacts in affected regions.

Possible solutions

Some of the management options include

  • Uses of surface water sources
  • Exploring and harnessing alternate arsenic-free aquifer
  • Removal of arsenic from groundwater using arsenic treatment plants/filters
  • Adopting rainwater harvesting/ watershed management practices.


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