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Is enough being done to make drinking water safe?

BioMed Central

There is a lack of evidence regarding the effectiveness of technologies used to reduce arsenic contamination finds research in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Evidence. More studies assessing the technologies themselves and how they are used in the community are needed to ensure that people have access to safe, clean water.

Arsenic is now recognised to be one of the world's greatest environmental hazards, threatening the lives of several hundred million people. Naturally occurring arsenic leaches into water from surrounding rocks and once in the water supply it is both toxic and carcinogenic to anyone drinking it. It is colourless and odourless and consequently people use it instead of more obviously polluted surface water. Natural arsenic pollution affects 21 countries across the world sometimes reaching a concentration more than ten times the WHO guidelines.

There are several methods available for removing arsenic from contaminated water. Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School (supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), compared 8 different technologies all of which claim to make drinking water safe. They found that most of the studies reviewed were found to be of poor quality and missing data and that only two technologies showed good evidence of effectiveness.

Lack of data was not the only problem with these technologies. Dr Mark Pearson, who led this study, explained, "Combining the qualitative results it became clear that a major problem was the reluctance of the user. Many people in affected regions, even if aware of the problems with arsenic, believe that they will not be affected, or find the technologies too difficult to use and maintain."

Dr Pearson continued, "It is imperative that more data is made available for decision makers to choose the most appropriate and effective technology for ensuring clean safe water. For any technology to be successful it also needs to take into account how acceptable the technology is to users, how people perceive the problem, the role of women in society and how to instil a sense of ownership into the community."

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Notes to Editors

1. Are interventions to reduce the impact of arsenic contamination of groundwater on human health in developing countries effective? A systematic review

Tracey Jones-Hughes, Jaime Peters, Rebecca Whear, Chris Cooper, Hywel Evans, Michael Depledge and Mark Pearson Environmental Evidence 2013 2:11, doi:10.1186/2047-2382-2-11

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. Environmental Evidence facilitates rapid publication of systematic reviews and evidence syntheses on the effectiveness of environmental management interventions and on the impact of human activities on the environment.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. @BioMedCentral

4. This research was funded by (AusAID) and PenCLAHRC (University of Exeter)

5. The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13, the University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 18,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Sunday Times University Guide, 10th in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012 and 10th in the Guardian University Guide. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 90% of the University's research was rated as being at internationally recognised levels and 16 of its 31 subjects are ranked in the top 10, with 27 subjects ranked in the top 20.

6. This research was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).The research grant was awarded as part of a joint call for systematic reviews with the Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage or injury resulting from reliance on any of the information or views contained in this publication.

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