LAHORE - High concentration of arsenic has been detected from a water filtration plant at cattle market Shahpur Kanjran, exposing people in nearby localities to serious health hazards.

The laboratory of Ministry of Science and Technology - Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) - has confirmed alarmingly high concentration of this heavy metal in sample-144.4 microgram per litre, more than 14 times higher than the prescribed standards of World Health Organization (WHO).

Sources at PCRWR revealed that the sample for analysis of arsenic concentration was submitted by a private party and not the management of the cattle market.

“The sample was submitted by local people and not the management. They (local people) have told the PCRWR that the sample has been taken from filtration plant at Shahpur Kanjran. PCRWR can only confirm arsenic concentration in the sample. We can’t confirm the location from where sample is taken,” said an official at PCRWR who wanted not to be named.

“The cattle market management has submitted samples for microbiology analysis. These samples also failed. The management has not got analysed any sample for arsenic concentration. It was submitted by private client while giving information about the site,” he added.

Officials at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also raised question not about authenticity of the report but the sample’s location.

“I don’t know who has taken the sample and for what purpose. There is need of taking fresh sample from Shahpur Kanjran cattle market as per set criterion for sampling and its analysis from PCRWR and some other laboratories of good repute. The situation is really alarming if same arsenic concentration is found in fresh and properly taken sample,” EPA Director Naseem-ur-Rehman Shah told The Nation.

“EPA will definitely intervene to assess the real situation. We will get a fresh sample for evaluation of arsenic concentration in underground water of Shahpur Kanjran,” he added.

Another official at EPA, seeking anonymity, termed the report horrible, saying such high concentration of arsenic could put health and even life of people at risk. “We know concentration of arsenic in Lahore aquifer is higher than the WHO standards. But such a high concentration (144.4 milligram per litre) has never been detected from anywhere in Lahore.

“There is need of getting verification by taking fresh sample and analysis from quality laboratory,” he urged.

He further said that more than 150 factories, from Thokar Niaz Baig to Maraka, were disposing hazardous waste either in irrigation channels or by digging wells.

“Definitely these factories are polluting underground water. But high concentration of arsenic could not be attributed to activities of these factories. Arsenic is little or not a part of waste of these factories. As such there is need of first assessing the real situation by analysis of fresh sample and then detailed investigation to determine causes of high arsenic concentration.”

Medical experts are alarmed at detection of high concentration of arsenic in underground water of Lahore, saying consumption or even exposure to this water could cause severe complications including cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.

“There is risk of lung and bladder cancer, skin changes when concentration of arsenic in drinking water is 50 milligram/litre or lower. But here arsenic concentration is 144.4 milligram/litre. It means people in the area are at much higher risk of getting diseases,” said Dr Abdul Rauf, a leading family physician, adding, even continuous inhalation of arsenic could cause lung cancer.

“Consumption of arsenic can cause severe vomiting, disturbances of the blood and circulation, damage to the nervous system, and eventually death. When not deadly, it can reduce blood cell production, break up red blood cells, enlarge liver, color skin, loss of sensation in limbs and brain damage,” Dr Rauf added.