Arsenic (and Manganese) Crisis in Cambodia

Another arsenic hot spot. ‘A brewing health crisis in Cambodia may be following the same pattern of arsenic poisoning that has devastated parts of Bangladesh and West Bengal (India). Poor surface-water quality recently led Cambodians to rely more heavily on shallow groundwater wells for drinking water, but recent reports indicate elevated levels of naturally occurring arsenic in some of these wells. In the first comprehensive groundwater survey of the area, published in this issue of ES&T (pp 2146–2152), scientists map out the magnitude of the contamination problem, which includes arsenic as well as manganese, in Cambodia. Those involved in the work are calling for immediate mitigation efforts.’

Review in Environmental Health Perspectives: Arsenic: In Search of an Antidote to a Global Poison. ‘Arsenic. No other element has such a complex and variegated past. As early as 500 B.C. the ancients knew about arsenic, whose name comes from the Greek word for potent. Through the centuries, this “king of poisons” was a common means of homicide. And yet, arsenic’s image has not always been so morbid. People in the Middle Ages wore arsenic amulets around their necks to ward off the bubonic plague, and women in Victorian times applied arsenic compounds to their faces to whiten their complexions. Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, recorded arsenic’s usefulness as a topical remedy for skin ulcers.’ (PDF, 1.11 MB)

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