Arsenic is naturally present in around half of the boreholes from shallow aquifers in North 24 Parganas, that is mainly used for drinking and cooking, but rarely in the deeper aquifers. But there is no way of knowing which boreholes has the high concentrations. Arsenic accumulates in the palm of hands and feet and it is poisons the liver, which in turn is unable to clean the blood. Intake of high concentrations of arsenic over many years thereby results in a wide range of vascular diseases and cancer.
Our work with the arsenic problem in a small area in North 24 Parganas since 2004 has given us a good insight into which solutions work. Various treatment solutions has been less attractive to villagers than just measuring people’s water pumps. If someone knows that their family water pump has arsenic, they can then fetch water from another clean well, the neighbor’s or a public hand pump.
We continue mapping in new places around the Gaighata Block. There is a hidden potential problem because a still increasing number of people have been able to acquire a private shallow well the last 20 years, and thus more and more people are at risk of consuming arsenic contaminated water. Since the visible arsenicosis disease signs typically emerge after 10-20 years, a lot of disease victims have not yet been diagnosed. Apart from the work done by this and the former UBU/JGVK projects in few GPs, there is not much structured monitoring or awareness raising going on from the government side.