SLAC public Lecture Series
Arsenic: The Silent Killer
Andrea Foster uses x-rays to determine the forms of potentially toxic elements in environmentally-important matrices such as water, sediments, plants, and microorganisms. In this free public lecture, Foster will discuss her research on arsenic, which is called the silent killer because dissolved in water, it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, yet consumption of relatively small doses of this element in its most toxic forms can cause rapid and violent death.
Arsenic is a well-known poison, and has been used as such since ancient times. Less well known is the fact that much lower doses of the element, consumed over years, can lead to a variety of skin and internal cancers that can also be fatal. Currently, what has been called the largest mass poisoning in history is occurring in Bangladesh, where most people are by necessity drinking ground water that is contaminated with arsenic far in excess of the maximum amounts determined to be safe by the World Health Organization.
This presentation will review the long and complicated history with arsenic, describe how x-rays have helped explain the high yet spatially variable arsenic concentrations in Bangladesh, discuss the ways in which land use in Bangladesh may be exacerbating the problem, and summarize the impact of this silent killer on drinking water systems worldwide.