Book on Bangladesh, Bengal arsenic poisoning in award race
London : A hard-hitting account of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and West Bengal by a Scottish scientist has been short-listed for the Aventis prize - considered the Oscars of popular science books.
Andy Meharg, based in Aberdeen, is an expert in arsenic and is a professor at Aberdeen University. His book, "Venomous Earth", is among 13 books selected from more than 100 put forward for the general prize category.
The book details the problem in the region that has its roots in the 1970s when deep-water wells were dug in an effort to curtail the number of deaths caused by people drinking contaminated surface water.
The wells themselves brought more devastation, as many contained water contaminated with high levels of arsenic that occurs naturally in the rocks below.
Meharg said he was delighted at the recognition of his book and its subject.
"I was pretty surprised when I heard that I had made the list. I did not expect it at all and I'm absolutely thrilled. I set out to write 'Venomous Earth' to raise awareness to a horrific situation that is still ongoing in Bangladesh and West Bengal," he said.
"Arsenic is the most notorious poison of all and it causes skin, bladder and lung cancer, stillbirths and heart attacks. It also causes black spots on victim's torsos, which often results in those people being cast out by their community," he told media in Aberdeen.
In India and Bangladesh, between 40 and 80 million people are reported to be at the risk of consuming too much arsenic from well water.
Meharg said he hoped his success in the Aventis Prizes would help raise awareness of the situation. The list of potential winners was announced at the London Book Fair this week.
Fiammetta Rocco, one of the judges and literary editor at The Economist, said: "This year's submissions were of remarkable high quality, which made the job of picking out just a dozen books especially difficult.
"The diversity of subjects, the excellence of the writing, the singularity of individual voices; all of these contributed to remind us that writing and reading about scientific ideas can be a tremendously exciting experience."
The winner will be announced on May 16. Past winners have included Bill Bryson and Stephen Hawking.