Aquino creates anti-arsenic poisoning task force
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has created a government task force against arsenic poisoning of groundwater, a serious health hazard for communities that depend on wells for water.
Administrative Order No 47, signed by Aquino on August 26, creates an “inter-agency task force on arsenic risk reduction and management.”
The group will be led by representatives from the Department of Public Works and Highways and will have, as its members, the following agencies:
- Department of Health
- Department of Science and Technology
- Department of Environment and Natural Resources
- Department of the Interior and Local Government
- Department of Budget and Management
- Local Water Utilities Administration
- Presidential Communications Operations Office
The task force is ordered to assess and map risks faced by communities vulnerable to arsenic poisoning, create an action plan to ensure access to safe water, and provide assistance to affected and at-risk persons.
They are also mandated to get assistance from local and foreign institutions with the technical knowledge. The task force is supposed to regularly report on its activities and performance to the President.
Funds for the task force will come from the budgets of the member agencies through the General Appropriations Act.
Arsenic, a heavy metal, is a toxic chemical and is a known carcinogen. Arsenic poisoning occurs when a person drinks arsenic-rich water over a long period of time, such as from 5 to 20 years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This can lead to changing skin color, hardened patches of skin, cancer (bladder, skin, kidney, lunch), diabetes, high blood pressure and reproductive disorders.
Arsenic salts are naturally present in all water but usually in safe amounts – concentrations of less than 0.01 milligram/liter, the WHO standard for safe drinking water.
The danger is when arsenic-contaminated water is taken over a long period of time. An estimated one in 100 people who drink water with at least 0.05 mg of arsenic per liter may eventually die from cancers related to arsenic poisoning, according to WHO data.
Arsenic can also come from industrial processes like mining, timber treatment, and metal refining. For instance, in Marinduque, the 1996 spill of toxic waste from the Marcopper mine contaminated rivers and farmlands with arsenic.
Because the symptoms of arsenic poisoning take a long time to manifest, awareness about it is low even among vulnerable communities.
The best way to protect communities from exposure to arsenic, according to WHO, is for them to be provided with safe, arsenic-free drinking water.
For communities that depend on wells for their water supply, deeper wells may have to be dug to extract ground water free from arsenic. – Rappler.com