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Arsenic Found in Wheat, Potato in Rural Bihar



  • GS 2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.



  • Recently, scientists-led research has confirmed the presence of arsenic in food chain in Bihar through irrigation water.
  • It was found that three common eatables — rice, wheat and potato — had elevated levels of arsenic that consequently increases the disease burden in exposed persons.


Key points

  • This is the first study where a detailed dietary assessment was conducted on arsenic exposed populations of Bihar to estimate the arsenic exposure from the three major staple foods, cooked rice, wheat flour and potato
  • Arsenic contamination in groundwater was a growing concern in several parts of the country. Now, the chemical has found its way into the food chain through rice, wheat and potato.
  • Arsenic contamination in drinking water is not new in Bihar.
  • This time, however, it was observed that in several samples, arsenic content in food items was higher than that in drinking water.
  • Moreover, the concentration was higher in cooked rice compared to raw rice.
  • The results emphasise the importance of food-related exposure in arsenic-endemic areas, particularly the areas with high arsenic concentrations in drinking water.


Key findings

  • At least 77% of households had an arsenic concentration in drinking water below the WHO guideline value of 10 μg / L.
  • At least 37% used some form of improved water for drinking, indicating that a significant proportion of drinking water in the studied population may have had arsenic levels lower than 10 μg / L.
  • The median contribution of food to overall arsenic exposure was 36 per cent when drinking water exposure was below 10 μg / L.
    • Contrary to previous studies, food was found to contribute more to arsenic poisoning than drinking water when the arsenic concentration in drinking water was above 10 μg / L.
  • Out of the total districts in Bihar, 22 were reported to have arsenic in drinking water above the WHO provisional guide value of 10 μg / L.
  • More than 9 million people were estimated to be drinking water with arsenic above 10 μg / L and 33% of the tested hand tube wells samples normally used for drinking water had arsenic above the WHO provisional guide value.


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