Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of arsenic during their pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies who are predisposed to infections and respiratory related ailments in the first year of their lives, a new study which was recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives has revealed.
For the study, which surveyed New Hampshire residents who get their water from private wells, the research team measured arsenic levels in urine samples taken from 412 pregnant women to gain a better understanding of how much arsenic each unborn baby was exposed to prior to their birth. Once the women had given birth, the researchers conducted telephonic surveys every 4 months to determine how many infections the children succumbed to and how severe these infections were, as well as the symptoms the child displayed within their first year.
The results of the study indicate that babies that were exposed to arsenic while in their mother's womb had more infections that required visiting a doctor or that needed to be treated with prescription drugs. According to Shohreh Farzan, a scientist at Dartmouth University's Geisel School of Medicine and lead author of the study, babies exposed to high levels of arsenic in the womb were more likely to have infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract, together with respiratory symptoms (for example wheezing) that required medical attention.
According to Margaret Karagas, a professor of epidemiology at the Giesel School of Medicine and co-author of the paper, the results of this study indicate that early exposure to arsenic may not only increase a child's risk to some types of infections, as well as the severity of those infections; but infants who succumb to these infections and respiratory symptoms could be at higher risk of developing allergies and respiratory conditions later in life.
These findings echo observations of children exposed to high levels of arsenic in Bangladesh, where respiratory infections, impaired immune function and higher susceptibility to infection is higher in the general population due to widespread exposure to high levels of arsenic in well water that is used for drinking.
The most common source of arsenic exposure is drinking water, particularly water drawn from private wells as these do not undergo the same level of testing as water that is supplied by a water utility, which must meet EPA standards for water quality. In the US, arsenic in well water is considered the biggest public health problem in terms of drinking water quality. In New Hampshire, approximately 10-15% of private wells are contaminated with arsenic at levels above the standard set by the EPA for drinking water. As these wells are not regularly monitored, many households may be unaware that they are being exposed to high levels of arsenic via their drinking water.
The authors recommend that households that get their drinking water from private wells should have their water tested for arsenic. If high levels of arsenic are present, this can be filtered out with a good quality water filter that has the capability to remove the hazardous contaminant. Berkey water filters remove this by 99.9%.
Margaret R. Karagas, Emily Baker, Kari Nadeau, Richard Enelow, Donna Spiegelman, Susan A. Korrick, Zhigang Li, Shohreh F. Farzan. Infant Infections and Respiratory Symptoms in Relation to in Utero Arsenic Exposure in a U.S. Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409282