A new study confirms that exposure to low to moderate amounts of arsenic in drinking water can impair lung function. Doses of about 120 parts per billion of arsenic in well waterabout 12 times the dose generally considered safeproduced lung damage comparable to decades of smoking tobacco. Smoking, especially by males, made arsenic-related damage even worse.
This is the first population-based study to clearly demonstrate significant impairment of lung function, in some cases extensive lung damage, associated with low to moderate arsenic exposure.
"Restrictive lung defects, such as we saw in those exposed to well-water arsenic, are usually progressive and irreversible," said the study's senior author, Habibul Ahsan, MD, MMedSc, Director of the Center for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Chicago Medicine. "They can lead over time to serious lung disease."
The study, conducted in Bangladesh and published early online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, adds to a growing list of arsenic-related health problems that includes skin, bladder and lung cancers, cardiovascular disease, cognitive deficits and premature death. An estimated 77 million peoplenearly half of the residents of Bangladesh, the world's eighth most populous countrylive in areas where groundwater wells contain harmful amounts of arsenic.
Less is known about exposure to elevated arsenic levels from well water or foods in other parts of the world, including regions in Mexico and the United States. Researchers have recently begun to re-examine foods, such as rice syrup and apple juice, that contain more arsenic than the 10 parts per billion that is allowed in U.S. drinking water.
"It is challenging to conduct rigorous biomedical research in a place like Bangladesh that lacks the infrastructure for such projects," Ahsan said, "but over the last 12 to15 years we have learned how to meet those challen
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center