Arsenic poisoning water wells

OUAGADOUGOU, With signs that people are developing diseases linked to arsenic poisoning, the government said that it had turned off pumps to 11 deep-water wells in areas in the north of Burkina Faso.

“People were coming to our health centres with skin diseases in abnormally high numbers,” regional director for health in the north,
Moussa Dadjouari, told IRIN on Friday. “So we conducted investigations and found that it was linked to drinking water.”

Over the last two years officials from the ministry of agriculture and hydraulic resources found that the level of arsenic was often higher than 10 micrograms per litre, a threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Short term symptoms of arsenic poising include vomiting, stomach aches and bloody diarrhoea, according to the minister of health.
Prolonged exposition can damage kidneys and lungs and cause skin cancer.
People in the north complained bitterly about losing their precious water sources, according to the state-owned newspaper. The government said on Thursday that it had started building more wells to replace those closed.

On Friday, UNICEF told IRIN that it has also been testing water in 360 wells it built in the northern provinces of Yatenga and Lorum between 1999 and 2004 and found that seven wells were contaminated. UNICEF said it too had started building new wells to replace them.
Tidiane Zougouri, an environmentalist critical of the policy of closing wells in areas where people are in desperate need of water, said that up to 80 percent of arsenic can be eliminated using a sand filter.
“Studies have shown that arsenic is stopped by the iron contained in the sand,” Zougouri said. “And it·s a cheap solution because sand is everywhere in the area.”

Zougouri warned that with erosion, arsenic is not only affecting underground water but also water that has risen to the surface. “The danger comes from any water that has not been able to oxygenate” he said. The risk is also not limited to the north but to the whole country,
according to the general director of water resources Francis Bougaire.
“Arsenic was not on the agenda when officials were evaluating soil before digging the wells,” said Dadjouari. The government has now set up an inter-ministerial committee to try to address the problem.