KOLKATA: Cultivating rice varieties that accumulate less amount of arsenic can tackle the challenge of exposure to the carcinogen that affects the population in over five Indian states, an expert said here Wednesday.
Though drinking water contamination is known to be the prime cause of arsenic exposure, toxic effects have been observed in people whose only source of the carcinogen is rice.
"India's major problem in terms of environmental mutagens (mutating agent) is arsenic. Five states have been affected and more reports are coming in everyday.
"Very recently we have proven a link between rice containing high levels of arsenic and DNA damage and this becomes crucial since rice is a staple in India," Asian Association of Environmental Mutagens Societies (AAEMS) president Ashok K. Giri told IANS on the sidelines of the 4th Asian Conference on Environmental Mutagens at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) here.
Elaborating on the findings, he said rice is the crop most susceptible to absorbing arsenic during cultivation.
Giri noted that residents in rural West Bengal who consumed rice contaminated with more than 200 microgram/kg of arsenic showed higher frequencies of DNA damage.
"But there should not be any panic because there are plenty of rice varieties which accumulate less arsenic so if you can cultivate those then there shouldn't be a problem," said Giri, also an emeritus scientist, Molecular and Human Genetics Division, of the institute.
Chronic arsenic exposure through groundwater contamination affects around 160 million people worldwide and majority of them reside in southeast Asia, particularly, Bangladesh, India, China and Taiwan.
In addition, air pollution and fluoride toxicity are other issues that need immediate attention, he said.