Don't drink the water, still

We all know there are some places you need to drink purified water to stay healthy, and away from intestinal distress. Well, it's distressing to learn 140 million humans are drinking water with a high probability of gradual self-poisoning.

keratosis.jpg
We all know there are some places you need to drink purified water to stay healthy, and away from intestinal distress. Well, it's distressing to learn 140 million humans are drinking water with a high probability of gradual self-poisoning.

Arsenic is the word. At a London conference, an American scientist warns that arsenic in drinking water is the earth's single most deadly environmental problem.

"In the long term, one in every 10 people with high concentrations of arsenic in their water will die from it," observed Allan Smith from the University of California at Berkeley.

The arsenic problem is worst in China, India and other regions of south and east Asia. Much of Africa is still untested for arsenic in drinking water. It causes lots of complicated sounding cancers and other health problems. The Arsenic Foundation has the ugly photos and is asking for donations to dig safe wells.

A nasty twist, especially in many Asian countries: rice grown with arsenic-laced water actually concentrate the metal in the grain. Increasing the dosage.

There are two approaches that work: one is decidely low-tech. Digging wells in areas where arsenic is not a problem, then piping water to the customers. But high-tech can help, based on research at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Canadian scientists have their own new method. In our air conditioned offices we're not necessarily remote from the problem. As more and more mining takes place for coal and other minerals, the chance of arsenic pollution from the run-off increases. Highly soluble, arsenic compounds can move long distances through surface run-off or groundwater.

Oh, the lovely photo? That's a pair of feet with arsenic-induced keratosis, courtesy, if you can use that word, of the Arsenic Foundation website, Harvard.