DOH warns vs arsenic in water supply

by Tina G. Santos, originally posted on July 1, 2016


The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday warned the public against health risks associated with drinking contaminated water and poor hygiene and sanitation as it reported several cases of diarrhea in Samar and arsenicosis, or exposure to high levels of arsenic, in Central Luzon.

Outgoing Health Secretary Janette Garin reported that over a hundred people from Central Luzon had been diagnosed to be afflicted with arsenicosis due to chronic exposure to elevated levels of arsenic.

“Cases of elevated arsenic have been noted in parts of Central Luzon,” Garin said in a press briefing.

She said as of this month, at least 123 cases were reported to her department and patients “have been receiving medical attention.”

“The source of the disease is contaminated water in the affected areas,” Garin said.

Garin, however, was quick to allay fears of an outbreak of arsenicosis in Central Luzon.

“But as a preventive measure, there is a need to closely monitor the situation and test water sources nationwide,” Garin said, adding that there was a possibility the problem was not just confined to Central Luzon.


She noted that most of the patients came from areas affected by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

She said the DOH should test and check water sources in areas that were near volcanoes.

According to health experts, arsenic is naturally occurring and can contaminate water and soil. Aside from volcanic eruption, other causes of arsenic contamination include mining and industrial spills.

Garin said arsenic was a carcinogenic chemical and chronic exposure could eventually damage a person’s internal organs and initially cause skin diseases.

The DOH, she said, is also working hand in hand with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Local Water Utilities Administration and local government units to monitor water sources in areas where arsenic levels could exceed safe amounts.

She said some local government units in areas with high arsenic levels had distributed bottled water to “avoid further cases of arsenicosis.”

“Local health workers are initiating medical screening in communities to detect early cases,” she said.

She added that the DOH was also working with the Dutch government in planning how to provide safe water to residents of the arsenic-affected areas in Central Luzon.

The Netherlands’ help

“This collaboration aims to screen the scope of arsenic toxicity in Central Luzon,” she said.

The partnership, she added, also seeks to come up with a design for an improved water supply system and implementation of water quality improvement programs.

Residents in areas with high arsenic levels, she said, are now being taught how to process water to make it safe for consumption.

Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo added that with the assistance of experts from The Netherlands, health officials were able to isolate sources of arsenic contamination. Officials, he said, also ordered the closure of pumping stations that are believed to be connected to contaminated sources.

Garin said water contamination was quickly becoming a public health concern not only in the Philippines, but worldwide as a result of climate change.

She cited the situation in some municipalities in Samar where a total of 887 cases of diarrhea, which led to eight deaths, had  been recorded from April to June.

Garin said the cases were reported in Catbalogan City, Samar, from April 1 to June 25.

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