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Lessons Learned from Arsenic Mitigation among Private Well Households.

ABSTRACT

Many thousands of research papers have been published on the occurrence, health effects, and mitigation of arsenic in drinking water sourced from groundwater around the world. Here, an attempt is made to summarize this large body of knowledge into a small number of lessons.This is an opinion paper reflecting on why we are far from the goal of eliminating this silent and widespread poison to protect the health of many millions. The lessons are drawn from research in countries representing a range of economic development and cultural contexts. The replacement of household wells with centralized water supplies has reduced population level exposure to moderate (50-100 μg/L) and high (>100 μg/L) levels of arsenic in drinking water in some countries as they become wealthier. However, there remains a very large rural population in all countries where the exposure to low levels (10-50 μg/L) of arsenic continues due to its dispersed occurrence in the environment and frequent reliance on private well. A set of natural (geological and biological), socioeconomic, and behavioral barriers to progress are summarized as lessons. They range from challenges in identifying the exposed households due to spatially heterogeneous arsenic distribution in groundwater, difficulties in quantifying the exposure let alone reducing the exposure, failures in maintaining compliance to arsenic drinking water standards, to misplaced risk perceptions and environmental justice issues. Environmental health professionals have an ethical obligation to help As mitigation among private well water households, along with physicians, hydrogeologists, water treatment specialists, community organizations, and government.