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After West Bengal and the bordering districts of Bangladesh, Tripura is also being affected by arsenic poisoning, caused by increased use of tainted ground water.

Tripura Pollution Control Board officials said Tripura's proximity to Bangladesh, particularly the arsenic-affected Comilla and Sylhet districts, was one of the main factors contributing to the looming threat of arsenic infection.

A group of environmental scientists had carried out an survey of 21 selected villages to determine the extent of arsenic poisoning. They found people in 19 of these villages were consuming water contaminated by arsenic.

Though Comilla and Sylhet districts of Bangladesh, bordering west Tripura's Sonamura, Bishalgarh and Khowai sub-divisions, are worst-affected, these officials said other parts of the state also face the threat, specially Belonia in south Tripura and Kailashawar in north Tripura.

Dipankar Chakraborty, head of the department of environmental studies at Jadavpur University (West Bengal), told a seminar recently that arsenic poisoning had assumed dangerous proportions in West Bengal. In 1988, only seven villages were affected; now, the number has risen to 840 villages this year, he said.

Chakraborty said the worst affected districts of West Bengal were Nadia, Malda, Burdwan ,south 24 Parganas and Murshidabad. He said at least two million people were drinking water infected by arsenic in eight West Bengal districts while 200,000 have already been clearly affected by the poison. He blamed the increasing use of underground water through deep tubewells for this.

Despite availability of surface water from various sources including rivers, canals and lakes, people in several districts in West Bengal tend to use underground water through deep tubewells which led to recession in underground water level and contamination by arsenic.

Chakraborty said the polluted water was also being used for irrigation. Since arsenic is not broken down, the poison collects in the plants, making vegetables and fruits dangerous. He said that those who ate less were most vulnerable.

Ironically, the department of science, technology and environment of the state's health department officials seemed completely in the dark about the looming threat of arsenic infection in Tripura in spite of the fact that the consumption of underground water in various forms through deep tubewell is much higher in the state in terms of population ratio than in West Bengal because of the hilly terrain.

Tripura's rural and urban development departments officials claimed nearly 60 per cent of the state's total three million population get safe drinking water but that even in the plains, underground water was tapped through tube wells. They said the high incidence of gall bladder stones and cancer in Tripura was also attributable to the consumption of polluted water though the high content of asbestos in Tripura's air also contributed, they added.

While there were ways of neutralising arsenic poisoning, long-term environmental planning was needed to blunt the danger from such pollution, said Chakraborty, who suggested tapping the many lakes and ponds dotting the countryside.

According to an official report, more than 15 million people face arsenic contamination in the five states bordering Bangladesh -- West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. Over 60 people have died in Bangladesh due to arsenic poisoning in three years, the report added.

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Arsenic Contamination