We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Research & business

View Profile

Publication details for Professor Peter Atkins

Atkins, P.J., Hassan, M.M. & Dunn, C.E. (2006). Toxic torts: arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and the legal geographies of responsibility. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31(3): 272-285.

Author(s) from Durham


Tubewells have been so popular in rural Bangladesh that about 12 million have been installed, yielding water that is convenient, free and low in bacteria. But every fourth well is polluted with arsenic, with the result that millions of people are exposed to a severe environmental hazard. We explore this crisis from the viewpoint of legal geographies. The case of Sutradhar v NERC is taken as an exemplar of a debate about 'proximity' between scientific consultants and aid donors on the one hand, and their clients in poor countries on the other. In short, the article is about the desirability of bringing responsibility into line with supposed generosity.


2002 Alternative water supply options for arsenic affected areas of Bangladesh Unpublished paper International Workshop on Arsenic Mitigation in Bangladesh, Dhaka, 14–16 January 2002 ITN Bangladesh, Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management, Dhaka Alkoby A
2003 Non-state actors and the legitimacy of international environmental law Non-State Actors and International Law
3 23–98
M R and Lord
2004 Who will pay for the damaging
consequences of climate change?
432 551–2
M 2002 Transnational corporations and environmental
damage: is tort law the answer? Washburn Law Journal 41 399–425 Anon 1999 Bangladesh: Conflict over blame for arsenic poisoning SUNS, North-South Development Mirror (
1999/09020699.htm) Accessed 2 February 2006 Anon 2001 Arsenic patients to take BGS to court The Daily Star (Dhaka) 27 July Anon 2002 BIAN launches campaign for arsenic victims The Daily Star (Dhaka) 10 January Anon 2003 British HC verdict: each arsenic victim likely to get £5,000 The New Nation (Dhaka) 11 May Anon 2005 SC asks govt to implement arsenic mitigation policy New Age National (Dhaka) 28 August Atkins P J, Hassan M M and Dunn C E in press 2006a Environmental irony: summoning death in Bangladesh Environment and Planning A 39 Atkins P J, Hassan M M and Dunn C E under review 2006b Poisons, pragmatic governance and deliberative
democracy: the arsenic crisis in Bangladesh Bachtold D 2003 Arsenic victims to take British science body to court Science 300 1066 Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project
2004 Implementation plan for arsenic mitigation in Bangladesh (
%2004/Implementation.pdf) Accessed 1 February 2005 Barnett C 2005 Ways of relating: hospitality and the acknowledgement of otherness Progress in Human Geography
29 5–21
Beck U 1999 World risk society Polity Press, Cambridge Berger M A 1997 Eliminating general causation: notes towards a new theory of justice and toxic torts Columbia Law Review 97 2117–52 BGS 2001 Bangladesh claims against the British Geological Survey Press release revised 2002 (http://
Accessed 2 February 2006
BGS and DPHE 2001 Arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh. Volume 2: final report Kinniburgh D G and Smedley P L eds BGS Technical Report WC/00/19 British Geological Survey, Keyworth Bierman F and Bauer S 2005 A World Environment Organization:
solution or threat for effective international environmental governance? Ashgate, Aldershot Black M 1990 From handpumps to health: the evolution of water and sanitation programmes in Bangladesh, India and Nigeria UNICEF, New York Blomley N 1994 Law, space, and geographies of power Guildford, New York Boltanski L 1993 Distant suffering: morality, media and politics Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Browne M N, Keeley T J and Hiers W J 1998 The epistemological role of expert witnesses and toxic torts American Business Law Journal 36 1–72 Campbell D 1999 The deterritorialization of responsibility:
Lévinas, Derrida, and ethics after the end of philosophy in Campbell and Shapiro M J eds Moral spaces:
rethinking ethics and world politics University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 29–56 Chatterjee D K ed 2003 Moral distance The Monist 86
Corbridge S 1993 Marxisms, modernities, and moralities:
development praxis and the claims of distant strangers Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11 449–72 Cutchin M P 1999 Qualitative explorations in health
geography: using pragmatism and related concepts as guides Professional Geographer 51 265–74 Davies J and Exley C 1992 Short term BGS pilot project to assess the hydrogeological character of the main aquifer units of central and north-eastern Bangladesh and possible toxicity of groundwater to fish and humans Final report British Geological Survey Technical Report WD/92/43R BGS, Keyworth Delaney D 2001 Making nature/marking humans: law as a site of (cultural) production Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91 487–503 Delaney D, Blomley N and Ford R T eds 2001 The legal geographies reader Blackwell, Oxford D’Monte D 2004 Squabbling over arsenic poisoning (
10/article02.shtml) Accessed 2 February 2006 Edmond G and Mercer D 2004 Daubert and the exclusionary
ethos: the convergence of corporate and judicial attitudes towards the admissibility of expert evidence in tort litigation Law and Policy 26 231–57 Fitzmaurice M 2004 The International Court of Justice and the environment Non-State Actors and International Law 4 173–97 Follesdal A and Pogge T W eds 2005 Real world justice:
grounds, principles, human rights, and social institutions Springer, Berlin Freudenberg W R 1997 Contamination, corrosion, and the social order: an overview Current Sociology 45 19–40 Gregory D 2004 The colonial present Blackwell, Malden MA Huber P 1991 Galileo’s revenge: junk science in the courtroom Basic Books, New York Ingram D 2002 The sirens of pragmatism versus the priests of proceduralism: Habermas and American legal realism in Aboulafia M, Bookman M and Kemp C eds Habermas and pragmatism Routledge, London 83–112 Kanner A 2004 Equity in toxic tort litigation: unjust enrichment and the poor Law and Policy 26 209–30 Koenig T H and Rustad M L 2004 Toxic torts, politics, and environmental justice: the case for crimtorts Law and Policy 26 189–207 Kroll-Smith S and Westervelt S D 2004 People, bodies and biospheres: nexus and the toxic tort Law and Policy
26 177–87
Leigh Day & Co. 2004 Poisoned Bangladeshis prepare to take case to the House of Lords (http://www.leighday. Accessed 2 February 2006 Mahmud A and Capella P 1999 Poisoned villagers to sue UNICEF Guardian 22 July Manderson M 2006 Proximity: Levinas and the soul of the law McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal Mason M 1999 Environmental democracy Earthscan, London Mason M 2001 Transnational environmental obligations:
locating new spaces of accountability in a post- Westphalian global order Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 26 407–29 Mason M 2005 The new accountability: environmental responsibility across borders Earthscan, London Meharg A A 2004 The venomous earth: how arsenic caused the world’s worst poisoning Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke Michalowska B 2004 Bringing aid agencies to account The 17 June (
cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=110514&d=205&h=207&f=259) Accessed
2 February 2006
MLG 2003 Report of the Committee on Surface Water Development and Management for Drinking Water Supply in the Arsenic Affected Areas of Bangladesh Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Co-operatives, Local Government Division, Government of Bangladesh, Dhaka Morgan B 2004 The regulatory face of the human right to water Journal of Water Law 15 179–87 Morgan B 2005 Social protest against privatization of
water: forging cosmopolitan citizenship? in Cordonier Segger M-C and Weeramantry C G eds Sustainable justice:
reconciling international economic, environmental and social law Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden 339–52 Morgan B forthcoming 2006 Emerging global water welfarism:
access to water, unruly consumers and transnational governance in Trentmann F and Brewer J eds The making of the consumer: knowledge, power and identity in the modern world Berg, Oxford 382–425 Mortoza S 2003 Case against British Geological Survey
(BGS) underway in London (
resources/infobank/mortoza/mortoza10.htm) Accessed
2 February 2006
Murshid S 2004 Arsenic victims vs the British Geological Survey The Daily Star (Dhaka) 26 September Murshid S nd Seeking accountability of a multinational:
arsenic victims versus the British Geological Survey Unpublished briefing paper Natural Environment Research Council 2003 Bangladesh
claims: latest news 28 February Press release Natural Environment Research Council 2005 Bangladeshi claim update (
BangladeshUpdate.pdf) Accessed 1 February 2005 Paradell-Trius L 2000 Principles of international environmental
law: an overview Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 9 93–9 Pearce F 2001 Bangladesh’s arsenic poisoning: who is to blame? UNESCO Courier January 10–13 Picou J S, Marshall B K and Gill D A 2004 Disaster, litigation, and the corrosive community Social Forces 82
Pogge T W ed forthcoming 2006 Freedom from poverty as a human right: who owes what to the very poor Oxford University Press, Oxford Pugh C and Criddle B 2004 Environmental claims and personal injury – an overview (http://portal.nasstar.
APIL%20Environment%20article%20_2_.pdf) Accessed
2 February 2006
Pugh C and Day M 1995 Pollution and personal injury:
toxic torts II Cameron May, London
Rao P S 2004 Second report on the legal regimes for the allocation of loss in case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities United Nations General Assembly 56th Session A/CN.4/540 United Nations, New York Rawls J 1999 The law of peoples Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA Rest A 1998 The indispensability of an International Environmental Court Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 7 63–7 Rorty R 1980 Philosophy and the mirror of nature Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Rorty R 1989 Contingency, irony, and solidarity Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Rosenberg D 1995 The hidden Holmes: his theory of torts in history Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA Silbey S S 2001 ‘Let them eat cake’: globalization, postmodern colonialism, and the possibilities of justice in Blomley N, Delaney D and Ford R T eds The legal geographies reader: law, power, and space Blackwell, Oxford 256–75 Silk J 2004 Caring at a distance: gift theory, aid chains and social movements Social and Cultural Geography 5
Singer P 1979 Practical ethics Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Singer P 2004 Outsiders: our obligations to those beyond our borders in Chatterjee D K ed The ethics of assistance:
morality and the distant needy Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 11–32 Smith A H, Lingas E O and Rahman M 2000 Contamination of drinking-water by arsenic in Bangladesh: a public health emergency Bulletin of the World Health Organization 78 1093–103 Smith D M 1998 How far should we care? On the spatial scope of beneficence Progress in Human Geography 22
Smith D M 2000 Moral geographies: ethics in a world of difference Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh Stiles K 2002 International support for NGOs in Bangladesh:
some unintended consequences World Development 30 835–46 Thornton J 2000 Pandora’s poison: chlorine, health, and a new environmental strategy MIT Press, Cambridge MA Toffolon-Weiss M and Roberts J T 2004 Toxic torts, public interest law, and environmental justice: evidence from Louisiana Law and Policy 26 259–87 UNICEF 2000 Learning from experience: evaluation of UNICEF’s Water and Environmental Sanitation Programme in India, 1966–1998 Evaluation Office, Division of Evaluation, Policy and Planning, UNICEF Headquarters, New York Valverde M 2003 Law’s dream of a common knowledge Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ White M J 2004 Asbestos and the future of mass torts Journal of Economic Perspectives 18 183–204 WHO 2000 Towards an assessment of the socio-economic impact of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh World Health Organization, Geneva WHO 2003 The right to water World Health Organization, Geneva WHO 2004 WHO guidelines for drinking-water quality 3rd edn World Health Organization, Geneva Wood G 1999 Contesting water in Bangladesh: knowledge, rights and governance Journal of International Development 11 731–54 Xue H 2003 Transboundary damage in international law Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Yu W H, Harvey C M and Harvey C F 2003 Arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh: a geostatistical and epidemiological framework for evaluating health effects and potential remedies Water Resources Research 39 1146–51.