S S Ray,


D Das,


T Ghosh


and A K Ghosh

2 **



There are several hot spots of esophageal cancer (EC) throughout the world. The deficiencies of Zn & Mo in human system play an important role for the development of esophageal cancer. The present study was aimed to investigate the role of soil and drinking water in terms of Zn & Mo contents in the development of a hot spot for EC.


Soil and drinking water (underground water) samples were taken from Eastern Cape, South Africa (a hot spot) and West Bengal, India (a cold spot) and analyzed for Zn & Mo contents using Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer.


Our results show that both soil and drinking water of Eastern Cape, South Africa were significantly deficient in Zn & Mo contents with respect to West Bengal, India. This deficiency is circulated to human system through food grain and drinking water.


Apart from other environmental risk factors the deficiencies of Zn & Mo in soil and drinking water contribute much for the development of EC in Eastern Cape, South Africa.


Esophageal cancer; Zinc & molybdenum; Eastern Cape, South Africa; West Bengal, India.


Almost every endemic disease has its distinct pattern of geographical distribution. This variation of the distribution pattern may be due to the exposure of living system to the geographical environmental factors like geomorphology, geochemical structure, litho logy, soil, food grain, water and so on. Different elements in the soil is lixiviated in water and easily absorbed by plants. As a result, the qualities of food, ground water, micro-organisms activity, plant growth are also affected [1, 2]. So, the quality of drinking water and soil play a vital role in biogeochemical processes and have a close relationship to the development and distribution of endemic diseases [3

– 7


Like other diseases, the incidence of EC has a striking variation in geographical distribution throughout the world [8, 9]. There are three areas in the world having a high incidence of esophageal cancer: Transkei of South Africa, Linxian Province of China and the Caspian Littoral region. The area having the highest incidence is Transkei of South Africa and often seen as the epicenter of the disease in Africa [10]. EC accounted for 41.8% and 31.3 % of the total cancers reported during the 1998-2002 period for males and females, respectively [11]. The ASR for EC in this region (31.3 per 100 000 males and 18.0 per 100 000 females) is much higher than the national average when compared with those reported by the National Cancer Registry (NCR) during the period 1998-1999 [12] (11.3 per 100 000 males and 4 per 100 000 females).

On the other hand, West Bengal, a state in Eastern India the incidence of EC is 3.1/100000 and 2.9/100000 (crude rate) for males and females respectively [13], which is much lower in comparison to that of Eastern Cape, South Africa or other global hotspots.

It has been reported that soil of high risk area for EC is deficient in some element and overdosed in some elements [14]; but till now there is no conclusive report about Zn & Mo content in soil & drinking water in of a hot spot for EC.

However, this geographical distribution of the endemicity of EC leads us to explore the content of Zn & Mo in soil & water which is also directed by our earlier study [15] as well as others [16 – 20].

Materials and Methods:

Soil & drinking water (ground) were taken from Eastern Cape, South Africa and West Bengal, India for the analysis of Zn and Mo content. The number of samples was thirty for both soil & water taken from each country.

Zn and Mo were analyzed according to the standard methods of American Public Health Association [21]. Both soil & water samples were repeatedly digested in aqua-regia then filtered and make up the volume. The filtrate was analyzed by AAS (GBC make 908 Model). A blank was run similarly in each case.

Results and discussion:

Our study shows that the soil of RSA is significantly deficient in Zn & Mo with respect to India (both Zn & Mo: p <0.0001) (Fig.1 & Fig.2; Table-1 & Table-2). This picture has also been reflected in case of water (both Zn & Mo: p <0.0001) (Fig.1 & Fig.2; Table-1 & Table-2), but the deficiency is more prominent than that of soil.

Table-1: Comparison Level of Zn & Mo in water and soil between INDIA & RSA.

Level of Zn in ppm

Level of Mo in ppm


(Mean ± SD)


(Mean ± SD)



(Mean ± SD)


(Mean ± SD)




















SD: Standard Deviation

Fig. 1: Comparison of the level of Zn in water and soil between INDIA & RSA.

Fig. 2: Comparison of the level of Mo in water and soil between INDIA & RSA.

The sources of the mineral elements for plants, animals and human are soil and water which pass through the food chain to humans [22]. Therefore, deficiencies of elements in soil and groundwater are circulated to human system through food chains and also create deficiencies in human system. Our earlier study indicated that the levels of Zn & Mo in hair of normal RSA population were strongly reduced with respect to normal Indian population and this picture was reflected in case of food grains also [15].

So, the deficiencies of Zn & Mo in water and food grain contribute much for the development of EC in RSA, a hotspot.


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