Health effects of arsenic in Pakistan

Maham Khalid

Exposure to various chemicals in everyday objects poses a hidden health threat. Although low levels of most of these toxicants may be of little significance, continuous exposures lead to increased dose and therefore significant damage to our body. Arsenic is a highly toxic element that is naturally present in nature, and in man-made products, including some pesticides.
In Pakistan arsenic contamination is prevalent mainly in Punjab and Sindh provinces and the hazard in drinking water drawn from wells is well known. Mainly arsenic is found in 5 foods that shouldn’t be a part of our regular diet: 1- Brussels sprouts 2- Dark meet fish 3- Rice 4- Chicken and poultry 5- Beer and wine. Arsenic poisoning is a medical condition that occurs due to elevated levels of arsenic in the body. If exposure occurs over a brief period of time symptoms may include vomiting, abdominal pain and watery diarrhoea that contains blood.
Long term exposure can result in thickening of the skin, darker skin, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, heart disease, numbness, and cancer. Arsenic exposure affects virtually all organ systems including the cardiovascular, dermatology, nervous, hepatobiliary, renal, gastro-intestinal, and respiratory systems. Therefore, people who have been exposed to high concentrations of arsenic display diabetes, hearing loss, portal fibrosis, haematology disorders. Exposure to arsenic in the workplace by inhalation can also cause lung cancer. The likelihood of cancer is related to the level and duration of exposure.
So we should monitor the level of arsenic that is being discharged from industries and other human activities to avoid damage to human health. There are a number of options to reduce levels of arsenic in drinking-water and in food. Test all groundwater sources of drinking water for arsenic. If you’re preparing rice, rinse it thoroughly. Boil brown rice in a lot of water. Instead of rice cereal as the first solid food for babies, try orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and squash, bananas, and avocados.
—Islamabad

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