Millions of Chinese at risk of arsenic poisoning, new study says

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A Chinese villager uses her mule to carry barrels of water collected from an underground well miles away from her village during a severe drought in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan province. March 31, 2010.

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Stringer

Millions in China could be at risk of damaging arsenic poisoning in their water supplies, indicates new research using a computer model. 

China has known it has a serious problem with arsenic contamination for a long time — even going so far as to deem it an "endemic disease" — but time-consuming well testing is proceeding slowly, and a team of researchers decided to use a predictive computer model to figure out which areas are highest-risk. 

Using publicly available information such as soil wetness, soil salinity and topography, the predictive model created by researcher Luis Rodriguez-Lado of Spain's University of Santiago de Compostela also looks at the potential for arsenic concentration and population density, according to AFP.

"Our model provides a quick overview of the areas potentially at risk," said Lado to Voice of America. "So it can be used to optimize the screening efforts at full scale and prioritize the analysis of the areas potentially at high risk, saving money and time."

The researchers estimate that a whopping 19.6 million in China could be at risk of drinking contaminated groundwater, which the World Health Organization defines as containing more than 10 micrograms per liter.

"In areas of high population density, the risk of high arsenic contamination is much more [than the average levels throughout China], especially in the Huai River [in Central China]," said Dr Guifan Sun, team member and China Medical University dean, according to the Guardian.

"These areas should be tested as soon as possible and I think after our paper is published, it will make the Chinese government pay attention," he said. 

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