Managing Arsenic in the Environment
Nicholas W. Lepp This book originates from CSIRO, Australia and presents a comprehensive picture of our current knowledge of arsenic in the environment. A significant proportion of its content is focused on Southeast Asia, where the world's most serious episode of mass arsenic poisoning is currently ongoing, and Australia, where there is a legacy of arsenic contamination dispersed across the continent from past agricultural practices. Readers seeking detailed treatment of arsenic problems in Europe and North America that derive from the industrial past will search in vain, but there is a great deal of generically valuable information presented here, applicable to a wide variety of situations.   The opening chapter sets problems of environmental arsenic contamination into a global perspective and provides an excellent introduction to the subsequent more specialized content. Arsenic analysis and speciation are reviewed, leading into a detailed discussion of arsenic in ground water, the major international area of concern. The mobility of arsenic in soils, bioavailability, plant uptake, and compartmentation are all thoroughly dealt with, albeit with some repetition, giving the reader a sound introduction to the main thrust of the volume: managing and possibly alleviating the impact of environmental arsenic on exposed human populations. At this point, the emphasis of the book is fully focused on Southeast Asia and Bangladesh in particular. Food chain issues use exclusively Bangladeshi examples, based on local rates of water intake and consumption of typical local foods. This is commendable in terms of assessing risk and its subsequent management. However, it is sometimes difficult to form judgements on the risk posed by arsenic intake from the diet, as opposed to potable water. I would have welcomed some clarity in relation to plant arsenic content. It is frequently unclear if whole plants (including roots), just foliage, or underground organs have been analyzed. Expressing plant arsenic content in mg kg–1 is not helpful in determining risk. There is a very detailed treatment of techniques for managing arsenic in water, with emphasis on technology that can potentially treat ground waters used for direct consumption, a problem that is rarely encountered in the developed world. Comparison of the information and applicability of techniques for water treatment with those subsequently described for treating arsenic-contaminated soil clearly demonstrate the ground that needs to be made up in the latter area. The book concludes with detailed assessments of the incidence and severity of arsenic contamination of Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, together with some material relating to potable water in the USA. This provides a valuable overview of the current situation in the Asian-Pacific region and also enables some preventative action to be proposed to avoid another human disaster on the scale of that presently taking place in Bangladesh. This represents a timely synthesis of previously disparate information and should remain a standard compendium of information on this topic for many years to come. Despite a few relatively minor reservations, this comprehensive volume deserves a place on the environmental professional's bookshelf.