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Water and Health in Northern Thailand: The Case of Fluoride, A Naturally-Occurring Health Hazard in Drinking Water Resources

Event Type: 
Event Date: 
7 May 2018 - 8:00am
ASE 3D Viz Laboratory Room (N2-B1c-16c)
Joon Chuah
About the speaker: 

Joon’s research addresses the interactions of both the environmental and human systems, with water typically serving as the common nexus. These include topics related to health, food security through agriculture and aquaculture, hydropower development as well as the impacts of extreme climates (floods and droughts) in the Southeast Asian region.

He has a doctorate in Geography and a Master’s degree in Engineering (Environmental Microbiology), both of which from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He has also spent several years as a civil and environmental engineering consultant based in Malaysia and Singapore. He was also a Research Fellow at the Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS.

About the event: 

When it comes to water-related health risks, most cases involve the ingestion of water subjected to contamination of anthropogenic origins (e.g. pathogens from faecal sources, chemicals from industrial effluents and agricultural runoff). Here, we look at a somewhat unique case where a large portion of a community in Northern Thailand is exposed to the risk of poisoning due to a naturally-occurring health hazard in their drinking-water supplies – fluoride. In small doses, fluoride can prevent dental caries and tooth decay; but sustained consumption of the colourless, odourless and tasteless fluoride in high concentrations is detrimental to health and the effects are irreversible. In this study, we mapped out the at-risk areas and for each area, we investigated the origins of fluoride and the environmental processes that mobilise these hazards from source to sink. Finally, we deliberated its implications to local water and environmental governance by asking: Are these populations still at risk to fluorosis, and to what extent? How are they mitigating these risks, how effective are they and are they sustainable?