Ecology of Infectious Disease: Does Arsenic Mitigation in Bangladesh Raise Exposure to Bacterial and Viral Pathogens?

Many children continue to die from diarrheal disease in developing countries even if, in a country such as Bangladesh, most today drink groundwater pumped from inexpensive tubewells.  Our research will determine whether this might be because groundwater is not as free of microbial pathogens as is generally believed - and which was the reason villagers were encouraged to switch their consumption from surface water to groundwater in the first place.  The background to this study is that millions of tubewells installed in Bangladesh have turned out to contain cancer-inducing levels of arsenic. There are reasons related to groundwater flow patterns to be concerned that particularly those shallows that are low in arsenic might actually increase exposure to microbial pathogens.  To conduct this study, groundwater from existing tubewells will be sampled and analyzed, additional monitoring wells will be installed within selected study areas, and an exceptional record of diarrheal disease within a large population in Bangladesh will be analyzed in detail.  The outcome of this research could have significant implications also for the millions of people within the US who obtain their drinking water from a well.
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Participating Institutions

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Department of Geology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Columbia University
Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department of Microbiology, University of Tennessee
Department of Environmental Sciences, Barnard College, Columbia University
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee
Public Health Sciences Division, ICDDR,B, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  
Matlab Health Research Programme, ICDDR, B.


The proximity of this tubewell and a latrine in a village of Bangladesh illustrates the possibility that shallow groundwater could be contaminated with microbial pathogens. Photo:  Jessica Leber