UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL researchers help reduce arsenic exposure for millions in Bangladesh

UCL researchers have worked with universities, governments and others to develop policy that mitigates groundwater arsenic pollution, and improves public health for millions of Bangladeshis.

Reducing population exposure to groundwater arsenic in Bangladesh

Exposure to arsenic can cause cancers, circulatory disease and death, and is a global threat to public health.  

Arsenic levels are particularly high in the densely populated floodplains of Southeast Asia, where groundwater provides the only microbiologically safe water for more than a billion inhabitants.  

But now thanks to a collaboration between UCL, the universities of Dhaka, Delhi and Karagpur, and others, UCL research is helping to improve access to safe water in the region.  

A team from UCL Earth Sciences found that groundwater arsenic pollution in Bangladesh is a natural phenomenon that derives from underlying sediments.  

Developing models to help predict future arsenic levels, they demonstrated that deep groundwater, free of excessive arsenic, could provide a safe alternative water supply. The team subsequently developed a map of the hydraulic structure of the Bengal Aquifer System to simulate the passage of contaminated water.  

The work was led by Professors William Burgess and John McArthur, with government scientists, policy makers and international aid consultants also contributing to the project.  

The project has had a significant impact on Bangladesh national policy relating to groundwater pumping by the Department for Public Health Engineering. The Bangladesh Water Development Board has now re-evaluated its groundwater monitoring approaches.  

Most notably, the work has contributed to a sector development plan that’s now delivering safer drinking water and reducing arsenic exposure for over five million Bangladeshis.