Water testing improves food safety in Lao PDR
Safe and nutritious food is vital for good health. That means keeping out contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals that cause over 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancer.
Metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are naturally found in the soil, air and water. They’re also used to grow and cultivate crops. But if they accumulate in the body, they can cause harmful effects over time because they don’t degrade. Special care is needed to keep them out of food in the first place.
Heavy metal testing is a critical part of any food safety testing process. If any hazardous materials are found, changes can be made to ensure consumer safety.
Sysomsack Keobouangern (Sack) has over 10 years experience in food analysis in the Lao Food and
Drugs Department at the Ministry of Health. From 8 to 12 May, Sack and his team underwent training to detect heavy metals in drinking water.
‘Testing our drinking water is an important component of food safety standards, since it prevents the spread of harmful contaminants,’ he said.
‘We perform chemistry testing to identify and quantify lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals to ensure a safe food supply.'
Water testing prevents illness
Recent studies indicate some of the common metals found in the Lao water supply include arsenic, iron and lead, among others. Drinking water containing these substances can lead to serious health issues.
For example, consuming high levels of iron can lead to stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Over time, iron can accumulate in the body and cause organ damage. Toxic metals like lead can cause developmental issues, anemia, high blood pressure, kidney damage, and reproductive problems in children. Arsenic is a toxin that causes skin lesions, cancers, and other illnesses. Water contaminated with arsenic can cause cancer, especially skin, lung, and bladder cancer.
Rice, which absorbs more arsenic from the soil than other plants, can be susceptible to elevated arsenic levels.
Fish is also susceptible to heavy metals, particularly mercury. When fish ingest mercury from the water, it can accumulate in their bodies and present a challenge to food safety.
‘Despite being the country's main testing lab, we still lack well-trained officers and efficient equipment to detect arsenic levels in water,’ said Sack. ‘Many communities are unaware of the potential danger of arsenic in water and are not taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves.’
This training is particularly useful for Sack and other FDD officials because it provides them with the education and resources needed to identify and address issues related to arsenic and other metal contamination in water. Furthermore, with this knowledge, Lao officials can help the local community protect themselves from water contamination.
About the project
The training is supported by the ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the EU - Lao PDR (ARISE Plus) project, funded by the EU. The project aims to contribute to inclusive economic growth, increased climate change resilience, mitigation of vulnerability and job creation in Lao PDR. The project helps to strengthen the government and businesses' capacity to benefit from increased regional integration.