Arsenic may be poisoning Bangladeshi citizens

London - Well water contaminated with arsenic, which kills thousands of people in Bangladesh every year, may also be poisoning rice and vegetable crops, a science magazine stated on Wednesday.

Water from wells is used to irrigate paddy fields and new research has shown that arsenic levels in rice vary according to the contamination levels in the soil and groundwater.

"The health effects of eating such tainted food are not yet known, but the ramifications could be enormous. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says contaminated drinking water alone could kill 270 000 Bangladeshis over the next decade," New Scientist magazine reported.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, who tested arsenic levels in rice samples from Bangladesh, said they ranged from 0,05 to 1,8 parts per million. In comparison, United States and European levels are about 0,05 parts per million.

"The WHO recommends a maximum level of 0,01 parts per million in drinking water, but there are no guidelines for levels in food," the magazine said.

Scientists suspect arsenic contaminated water supplies when international agencies drilled tube wells to provide clean drinking water and tapped into groundwater already containing arsenic, which occurs naturally in rocks.

Aid agencies are testing arsenic levels in water from wells to determine which ones are safe.

Spots on the skin and wart-like nodules on the hands and feet are symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

"If the body can absorb arsenic from food, and this is yet to be proven, then merely tackling drinking water will not be enough," the magazine said.