With these challenges in mind, Fendorf and Stanford post-doctoral scholar Matt Polizzotto have proposed finding the best option on a village-by-village basis. Beginning March 24, Fendorf will co-host a four-day meeting on arsenic poisoning in Siam Reap, Cambodia, with about 60 experts, including government officials, scholars, NGOs and funding agencies, such as the World Bank. The meeting was convened by the American Geophysical Union and the Woods Institute.
"The first three days will be devoted to the arsenic groundwater problem," Fendorf said. "We hope to converge on a resolution, as a scientific body, on what we agree about the problem, what remains unresolved and what needs to be done to fill the gap. The final day of the meeting will look more holistically at the water problem, examining best options for bringing safe drinking water to the populace."
According to Fendorf, the new understanding of arsenic cycling comes at a critical time for Cambodia, which is finally recovering from years of political unrest and is looking to bolster its economy by installing wells for drinking water and irrigation, and excavating soil to make roads and bricks. Such land-use changes could affect arsenic flow patterns throughout the delta, he warned, although in some cases, this may not be a bad thing. "The land-use changes will definitely modify the arsenic levels," he said. "Sometimes they might increase the level, and sometimes they might decrease it, depending on where they are situated and what the surrounding environment is like."
Although Fendorf and his colleagues came to Cambodia focused on understanding the science of arsenic contamination, they soon realized that what mattered most was the potential to make a difference in the lives of individuals. For example, the researchers tested each well they drilled for arsenic contamination. If it tested clean, they installed an
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|