Life & Health

Eight dead in fifteen days in Cañas – could arsenic-contaminated water be to blame?

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A 20-year-old woman who lost her two-year battle to live on Friday is the most recent victim of kidney failure in Cañas. The woman is one of 400 cases of kidney failure reported by the Center for Integrated Health Care (CAIS) in Cañas.

The city has seen a disproportionate increase in cases of the disease, and government authorities seem to be doing little to help. The director of the dialysis unit said that the woman’s death brings to 8 the number who have died in the past 15 days alone, including a 23-year-old man.

Meanwhile, local health facilities are getting little help from the government to deal with the problem. Facilities are so cash-strapped they have even been forced to take up donations to put doors on the restrooms. But residents are more concerned about what may be the source of the problem. They have been drinking arsenic-contaminated water for years.

The Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA), however, has attempted to dodge responsibility for the problem. Last week, AyA recognized that the water supplies were indeed contaminated, but said that the situation is not the fault of the institution, nor is it responsible for the emergency health decree issued by President Chinchilla and the Ministry of Health last year.

Last month, Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court (Sala IV) issued a Writ of Amparo against President Laura Chinchilla and various government agencies because they have failed to do anything about the fact that various water supplies in Guanacaste and northern Costa Rica – some twenty communities – contain dangerous levels of arsenic, even though the President declared the situation an emergency more than a year ago.

Health authorities so far have been reluctant to blame the high number of residents suffering from kidney failure on arsenic contamination, although kidney failure is a common symptom of arsenic poisoning. That hasn’t stopped speculation amongst area residents that the source of the problem is contaminated water.