There’s a worldwide epidemic of arsenic poisoning from water wells, with tens of thousands of people developing skin lesions, cancers and other symptoms. Many of them have died. High levels of arsenic have been found near the river Ganges in India, one of the most heavily populated areas on the planet. Maybe people should stick to soft drinks instead?except that in India, both Coke and Pepsi contain dangerous levels of pesticides.

Fred Pearce writes in New Scientist High that high levels of arsenic in groundwater have spread all the way to the Himalayas, an area that is inhabited by half a billion people. Researcher Jack Ng has found that people are at serious risk of arsenic poisoning in 17 countries around the world, including China, Vietnam, Argentina and here in the U.S. Bangladesh is the worst area, where 50 million people are at risk in what the World Health Organization thinks could become the world’s worst mass poisoning disaster.

In 2002, Kuneshwar Ojha, who lives close to the Ganges river, saw both his wife and mother die of liver cancer, while other family members developed skin lesions. He took water samples from the family’s well to environmentalist Dipankar Chakraborti, who found high concentrations of arsenic in it. The only healthy people in the area were the Dalits, or “untouchables,” because they weren’t allowed to drink water from the village wells.

The Center for Science and Environment (CSE) says Cokes and Pepsis made in India contain high levels of poisonous pesticides such as DDT and malathion. According to their study, “Twelve major cold drinks sold in and around Delhi contain a deadly cocktail of pesticide residues.”

The CSE says soft drinks in India have high levels of pesticides because the companies use untreated ground water in them. Chakraborti has found many more contaminated wells. “The same pattern we saw in Bangladesh is being repeated,” he says. “There, we began with the discovery of three villages. Now thousands are known to be affected and more are being discovered all the time. Our early warnings were ignored then?We feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg.” It seems like an enormous country is being slowly poisoned to death.

Water, water everywhere?.is this our final hour?

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