Earth News Journal 16: Arsenic Contamination in Vietnam

Drinking water has become unsanitary in various parts of Asia, according to The New Times’ Donald G. McNeil Jr.

Sediment containing traces of arsenic that was eroded from the Himalayan mountains ages ago has now been discovered underneath vast stretches of the Asian continent.

When this arsenic penetrates underground water stores, or aquifers, it can pollute the public drinking water, spreading disease and death.

Hanoi, Vietnam is one area under an immediate threat of arsenic-contamination. Already, arsenic “is leaching into a major drinking-water aquifer that serves Hanoi…Pumping from private wells….is draining that aquifer and drawing water from others that contain arsenic.”

The arsenic depends on “the balance of iron and decaying plant material in the aquifer… Iron seems to bind to the arsenic, while carbon in the decaying plants slowly dissolves the iron, and the released arsenic flows into the plume.”

Fortunately, the arsenic is moving slower through the sediment than scientists once predicted. Over a 20 year period, the contaminated section of arsenic has moved less than 400 feet.

Nevertheless, arsenic concentrations are 10 to 15 times higher than levels considered safe in some stores of drinking water, according to Vietnamese officials. A filter plant would benefit only a small portion of Hanoi, however, because most of the population depends on the private wells that leach a significant portion of the water.


Contaminated water would be absolutely horrifying, but it’s already a dangerous reality in some countries. As in the case of Hanoi, Vietnam, arsenic, a deadly poison, is seeping through their water sources, raising the risk for disease and death. When I think of water, I imagine a pure, clean, and cooling source of life, a quencher of thirst, and a refreshing taste of a nature-recycled resource. To live in world in which I must question the quality of my “purified” water is unimaginable. I have great sympathy for those in affected countries struggling to maintain chemical cleanliness in their aquifers. The entire situation is tragically ironic – all living beings need water in order to survive, yet life-giving water, when tampered or contaminated with deadly toxins, is lethal. We depend on water with our lives. Without a quality source of this vital necessity, we perish. Biological and chemical warfare are two projected fields of terrorism in the future. Not only will we attack one another with our weapons and our words, but those clever enough to conceive such a conniving penetration will attack countries with diseases and invisible armies of bacteria and poisons. This invisible, unknown plague will mystify nations, submitting them to unspeakable terrors that cannot be combated with fists or rifles. I fear that the contamination of water will become a weapon for biochemical terrorists. Because water is a primary life source for all human beings, I believe it will be utilized as a powerful lever of negotiation. You will not submit to our requests, therefore we shall destroy you from the very life-saving resource on which you wholesomely depend upon. What a frightening world that would be. 

McNeil, Donald G., Jr. “Arsenic Contamination Threatens Water in Hanoi.” The New York Times. N.p., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.

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