Chronic Arsenic Poisoning:

History, Study and Remediation

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Last Modified October 19th 2004
Projects on Arsenic at Harvard and MIT:
Harvard University School of Public Health
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Parsons Laboratory at MIT
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT

    Arsenic problems have been studied for several years both at Harvard and at MIT.  In 1998 attention was drawn to the arsenic problem faced by Bangladesh and other countries facing similar problems around the world.   It was agreed to establish the ARSENIC PROJECT, building upon work already being performed on arsenic issues in the several schools of Harvard University and in MIT. The project currently has adopted a four prong approach to address the problems - particularly in Bangladesh:

Objectives & Goals

I.   Professor Richard Wilson (Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics) is part of a group a  (IMCAP) endeavouring to help Dr Luo and his collaborators at Huhhot Sanitation and Anti-Epidemic Station to study and understand the problems of villagers on the alluvial plain of the Yellow River.  Professor Wilson is now the oragnizer of this arsenic website.   He has been to all three International Arsenic Conferences in Dhaka, Bangladesh.   Further applications of this approach include the collection of arsenic contamination data from well waters samples and making the information available to the scientific community via the World Wide Web.:
    A.  Identification of existing sources of data
    B.  Validating these data and encouraging their dissemination
    C.  Identifying existing web sites and their linkages (see list below)
    D.  Providing assistance to others to put information about their data (and perhaps the data themselves)  on the web
    E.  Where data are lacking help to develop new sampling, information and data gathering .  In an article "The need for an International Data Base " , Professor Wilson argued the importance such a  data base.  This web site, created by Professor Wilson is a beginning. Several other websites  throughout the world have followed suit and are now interlinked .

II.  Professor David Christiani (Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, Director of the Harvard Occupational Health program) is currently leading two studies in Taiwan:
    A.  a case control study of bladder cancer and arsenic exposure and

    B.  a case control study of skin cancer and arsenic exposure. These projects are conducted as part of  the NIEHS - funded Super Fund Basic Research Program Project at the Harvard School of Public   Health.  As part of this work, Dr. Christiani and colleagues have developed techniques for reliably  and reproducibly measuring arsenic in toenails for use in epidemiologic studies of arsenic exposed    populations. Dr. Christiani is also collaborating with Dr. Hunter of the Nurse's Health Study is examining low level arsenic exposure and bladder and skin cancer in US women.  A next phase of   the international collaboration in Taiwan involves examination of toxicokinetics of arsenic exposure in   humans, with consideration of recent and current exposures, metabolism, and possible susceptibility  factors from disease.  Results are being publishedProfessor Christiani is also usibg  funding from this Superfund  program for an epidemiology study in Bangladesh.   This will involve studying the human health    effects from arsenic poisoning as follows:
         1. Extending the study of biomarkers from the Taiwan cohort to Bangladesh
         2. Setting in place a long-term cohort (epidemiological) study for the various medical problems.
                a.  For the hyper/hypo pigmentation and keratoses already proliferating
             b.  For the skin cancers anticipated within a few years
             c.  For bladder, lung and other "solid" cancers anticipated after a 20 year latent period.
         3. Studying the effect on each one of these medical outcomes of:
               a. Specific dietary deficiencies (selenium?)
              b. General malnutrition

III.  Professor Harvey of MIT are interested in:
    A. Studying the hydro-geo-chemistry of the ground water.
    B. Studying the geography and terrain of the natural environment. Professor Charles Harvey, using  funding from the US National Science Foundation, is collaborating with scientists from Bangladesh University for Engineering and Technology (BUET) to study the hydrogeology and  hydrochemistry of the arsenic in the waters of Bangladesh.  Test wells were installed in April 2000 and measurements will be made every 2 weeks. This  builds upon the work performed earlier by the British Geological Survey .

IV.  This task is to some extent underatken by everone.  But Professor Wilson of Harvard is particularly concerned about Bangladesh and Dr Susan Murcott  of MIT is particularly concerned about Nepal.   The problems are different and the p[referred solutions are different.   Help in developing, understanding and dissemination of remediation processes to ensure a pure water supply to the people in each and every village in Bangladesh. We envisage several tasks under this head in two groups.  The first group is the immediate remediation:
    A. Identification and cataloguing each and every possible technology for removing arsenic from water.

    B. Identifying which technologies are presently available
    C. Identifying the cost of each technology
    D. Identifying which technologies have been tested in the field (proof of principle)
    E. Participating in field tests as appropriate
    F. Recommending selected villages for testing remediation technologies
    G. Formulating procedures for assessment of the tests
    H. Making recommendations for future deployment of the systems on a wide scale

V.  Each one of these four prongs will involve assistance to the villagers in one or another of:
     A. Education and importance of pure water including water free of bacteria and free of arsenic
     B. Instruction and education in the use of water purification systems.
     C. Importance of medical monitoring for arsenic symptomsd) Maintaining a balanced diet with no  mineral or vitamin deficiencies

The Principal Investigators at Harvard and MIT:h

David C. Christiani MD, MPH, MS
Professor of Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health;  Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School;  Director, Harvard Education and Research Center for Occupational Health & Safety, Harvard School of Public Health

Dr Charles Harvey , MIT

Dr. Harry Hemond , Director of Parson's Laboratory, MIT.

   Dr Susan Murcott  MIT , Lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmantal Engineering

  Louise Ryan Ph.D.
Professor of Biostatistics, Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health

John D. Spengler Ph. D.
Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health & Habitation
Professor of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health
Director, Environmental Sciences & Engineering Program, Harvard School of Public Health

Richard Wilson D.Phil.,
Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics, Physics Department, Harvard University, Affiliate Center for Risk Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health

Various project members collaborate with:

The Dhaka Community Hospital Trust (Chairman of Dhaka Community Hospital: Dr. Quazi Quamruzzaman)

School of Environmental Studies (S.O.E.S), Jadavpur University , (Director of S.O.E.S, Calcutta, India: Dr Dipenkar Chakraborti )

Dr. Allan Smith from the University of California at Berkeley.  Dr. Smith currently has ongoing arsenic related projects in Argentina, Chile and West Bengal.  He is also consultant to the World Health Organization on the arsenic contamination in Bangladesh.

Dr Steven Lamm  Consultants in Eenvironmental and Occupational Health   Washington DC

Dr Feroze Ahmed   Bangladesh University for Engineering Technology (BUET)

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Webmasters: Aladdin Ibrahim, & Richard Wilson

since June 26th, 2003