Drinking water quality in rural Bangladesh

To provide people in Bangladesh with safe drinking water, large-scale construction of hand-pumped tubewells began in the 1970s and 1980s, catalyzed by the United Nations “International Decade for Clean Drinking Water,” and has continued since. Current estimates show that over 90% of the population consumes tubewell water, particularly in rural areas. This shift has reduced microbial contamination and as a consequence diarrheal disease. However, it has increased exposure to other minerals naturally present in groundwater, including arsenic.

Often referred to as the largest mass poisoning in history, arsenic-contaminated drinking water in Bangladesh has been public health issue for decades. Arsenic exposure has been linked to several types of cancers, neurologic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus among others. In Bangladesh nationally, it is estimated that over 20 million people use drinking water sources with higher arsenic than the Bangladesh government’s threshold of 50 µg/L, and around 50 million use sources higher than the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 10 µg/L according to the 2009 National Drinking Water Quality Survey. In addition to high arsenic levels, other minerals such as iron, manganese, and sodium chloride have been reported at high levels in drinking water with potential beneficial or adverse health effects.

The scale-up of tubewell construction in Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, has also led to their proximity to potential hazards. Preliminary data point to possible increases in arsenic mobilization when tubewells are constructed within a certain distance to domestic wastewater outlets, such as pit latrines. We are examining these potential relationships in the Food and Agricultural Approaches to Reducing Malnutrition (FAARM) trial population in rural Sylhet, Bangladesh in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Earth Sciences at Heidelberg University.

This project aims to:

  • Describe mineral content of tubewell drinking water sources in rural Sylhet, Bangladesh
  • Estimate the role of groundwater on nutrient intakes as well as its possible beneficial and adverse effects
  • Assess arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh and potential interactions with domestic wastewater

Key links:

HCE-START: Arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh. Heidelberg Center for the Environment (HCE)

Project team:

External collaborators:


Publications and presentations by project team and external collaborators:

Müller, D., Stirn, C. N., & Maier, M. V. (2021). Arsenic Removal from Highly Contaminated Groundwater by Iron Electrocoagulation—Investigation of Process Parameters and Iron Dosage Calculation. Water, 13(5), 687.

Wendt, A.S., Blandino, A., & Waid, J.L. (2020) Potential contribution of groundwater minerals to micronutrient adequacy in Bangladesh. Micronutrient Forum. (Oral presentation)

Wendt, A. S., Waid, J. L., & Gabrysch, S. (2019). Dietary Factors Moderate the Relation between Groundwater Iron and Anemia in Women and Children in Rural Bangladesh. Curr Dev Nutr, 3(10), nzz093, doi:10.1093/cdn/nzz093.