Fluoride Action Network

Yemen: Scores of village wells contaminated with fluoride

Source: Yemen Observer | June 16th, 2007 | By Thuria Ghaleb
Location: International

Rabab, 13, is one of six sisters and one brother living in the same house and suffering from the same problems: teeth mottling, dental fluorosis and osteosarcoma. Rabab’s bones have deteriorated as a result of arthritis. She was advised by a doctor in the health center in Maqual’a village in the Sanhan district to stop drinking from the village’s well waters, because her health problems were caused by fluoride poisoning.

But no other medicines or food descriptions were given to cure her case. She suffers a lot from pain in her legs, which sometimes prevents her from walking in a normal way. More than 4,000 children in villages located in the Sanhan district are suffering from the same problems of Rabab and her brothers and sisters. Some 47 children between the ages of 2 and 13 in the al-Khaw’h village in Jahana’ district in the Khawlan area have been examined and diagnosed as patients with advanced stages of rickets, a softening of the bones in children potentially leading to fractures and deformity. Most of those children, including 32 males and 15 females, of about 149 total children living in this village, are younger than five years old.

Some of those children were taken to the al-Thawra hospital in Sana’a governorate on February 4, 2006, to be examined and to diagnose their disease, because the ailment had not been seen before in that area. Another group of children was also taken in the next day for the same reason. As a result of the big numbers of children coming to the hospital, a team of doctors was formed to visit this village and examine the rest cases of children. All of the patients were suffering from pains in both legs. These pains began simple but then developed into severe leg problems during the last seven months.

Some cases suffered from difficulties in walking, others were walking abnormally, like ducks, while some children became unable to walk. This number of children who are suffering from rickets is not restricted to this village in Khawlan area, but there are others in other 40 villages in the Sanhan district in the Sana’a governorate who suffer from the same problems. A large number of Sanhanis are also suffering from osteomalacia, a condition similar to rickets occurring in adults, as well as tooth decay and corrosion. These severe results come from increasing the fluoride in the drinking water in this area.

Fluoride is a known mutagen, particularly where it is found in concentrated amounts. In the body, fluoride accumulation occurs primarily in the bones, particularly during the developmental years. Yet fluoride is often added in minute amounts to drinking water, as it strengthens teeth in small concentrations. Fluoride artificially stimulates bone cell growth, generally in long bones such as the legs and arms, which may lead to cancerous growths. But it is found in high rates in some districts of some governorates such as Sana’a, Ibb, Dhamar, Taiz, al-Dhalei and Raimah. The effects of fluoride can cause long-term and irreversible health effects.

Treatment for osteosarcoma and other fluoride-induced health problems can be a long and expensive process, resulting in physical, emotional and financial stress on the patient and the patient’s family. To make the journalists aware of the wells where the fluoride is found in high concentrations—more than the allowed specifications of the World Health Organization, is 0.5 to 1.5 milligrams per liter, a field visit was prepared by UNICEF and the Public Authority for Rural Water Resources to some villages in Sanhan district on Wednesday, June 13. The journalists visited the Sanhan district office and met the members of the Civil Council of the district and a number of people living in some villages and suffering from the high concentration of fluoride in their drinking waters.
Maqual’ village was visited by the journalists so that they could see the noticeable effects on people living in this area. It is one of the many other villages in Yemen suffering from the high concentration of fluoride in the drinking water wells. It is located in southeast of Sana’a in the Sanhan district. About 3,100 people living in this village depend on some wells contaminated with 5 to 6 mg per liter of fluoride. Children’s teeth start changing to brown and corroding as a result. Field tests conducted on drinking water in the Sanhan district show that the focus of the fluoride varies from one village to another, between 3 to 6.5 mg per liter.

The variation depends on the nature of the geological structures in the area, or on the rocks that contain a high rate of fluoride compounds.She’an village is another area suffering from excessive fluoride. It is also located in southeast of Sana’a city in the Sanhan district. About 2,850 people living in this area also depend on the wells to get clean water for drinking. But these waters are contaminated with the fluoride at levels reaching 5.3 mg per liter. These same effects found in Maqula village have begun affecting people living in She’an.

No dangers of the fluoride affect people in al-Daram village. Drinking water brought from wells in this area contained just 1.5 to 1.9 mg per liter. About 950 people in al-Daram village, located next to the two other villages in Sanhan district, are still drinking from their wells. There are two ways to remove the fluoride from the drinking water: sedimentation and adsorption and ion exchange.

But the two ways are still difficult for the Yemeni government to achieve. These procedures require enormous financial support. Until Yemeni is able to find a way to remove excessive fluoride from its water, people should follow some simple steps to prevent disease such stopping drinking from these waters and eating food containing calcium.