Selenium and arsenic content of agricultural soils from Bangladesh and Nepal

Julian E. Spallholz, L. Mallory Boylan, J. David Robertson, Linda Smith, Mohammad M. Rahman, Jason Hook, Richard Rigdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Arsenic (As) contamination of the available domestic drinking water from shallow aquifers to villagers in Bangladesh often exceeds the newest WHO standard of <10 μg As L-1 and the older Bangladeshi standard of <50 μg As L-1. An estimated 9.2 million shallow tube wells in Bangladesh deliver water to 97% of the rural population, placing an estimated 57 million people at risk for arsenicosis. The contamination of drinking water by As extends to W. Bengal, India and Nepal. The same shallow aquifers used for domestic water are also used to irrigate food crops, particularly rice. Irrigation adds As to soils and increases exposure of the population to additional As via foods consumed. Selenium (Se), an essential trace mineral found in soils, is absorbed by plants, entering the human food chain. It was suggested that a low dietary intake of Se may be contributing to the problem of human arsenicosis in Bangladesh. Dietary Se acts as a natural antidote to As by (1) accelerating As excretion, (2) sequestering As by complexation and (3) as an antioxidant component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase that may counteract the prooxidant effects of As that contribute to arsenicosis and cancer. Analysis of 70 agricultural soil samples from Bangladesh by fluorimetry, ICP-AES and Neutron Activation Analysis showed the soils analyzed to be high in As (∼33 μg g-1) and biologically low in soluble Se (∼0.02 μg g-1). A low dietary intake of Se related to low soil content and this mineral in foods may be contributing to human arsenicosis in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-210
Number of pages8
JournalToxicological and Environmental Chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Arsenic
  • Arsenicosis
  • Bangladesh
  • Foods
  • Selenium
  • Soils


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