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Tag Archives: arsenic contamination

  • Exposure to Arsenic can Result in Cancer Decades Later

    Arsenic in drinking water is known to pose a health risk to humans, including the risk of cancer. Now a new study has revealed that the carcinogenic effects of arsenic exposure via drinking water may lie dormant for years before cancer develops.

    For the study, which was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers tracked mortality rates of Chilean people living in a region where they were exposed to drinking water contaminated with arsenic. The study presents evidence of increased bladder, kidney and lung cancer as much as forty years after exposure to high levels of arsenic ceased.

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    Inorganic arsenic is a naturally occurring drinking water contaminant that is found in high concentrations in drinking water in many countries around the world, posing a severe public health threat to millions globally. Health issues associated with extended exposure to arsenic in drinking water include bladder, kidney and lung cancer as well as skin cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other negative health effects.

    In 1958, the drinking water supply for the northern Chilean city of Antofagasta experienced a dramatic rise in arsenic concentrations. In 1970 the local water treatment plant upgraded their facility to include a mechanism for removing arsenic from the drinking water, which led to a dramatic drop in arsenic exposure. As Antofagsta is recognized as the driest place on the planet inhabited by humans, everyone residing there at the time had no other option but to drink the water supply provided by the city, even though it was know to contain high levels of arsenic.

    The study examines the health and mortality of residents exposed to arsenic over time, and identifies 'a clear relationship between and cancer mortality rates'. The researchers found that mortality rates from bladder, kidney and lung cancer started to rise about ten years after residents where exposed to high levels of arsenic, only peaking more than twenty years after measures were put in place to reduce residents exposure to arsenic, with associated cancer mortality rates remaining high for as much as 40 years after residents were exposed to the highest levels of arsenic.

    While the researchers hope to continue monitoring this population, from the results of the study to date, they have already concluded that the delay between arsenic exposure and the onset of arsenic-related cancers makes it a human carcinogen with one of the longest dormancy periods. These findings are not only important in terms of the light they shed on latency patterns of carcinogenic contaminants, they may also have a direct implication on public health.

    The lengthy latency period following exposure to arsenic means that arsenic-related health effects may only materialize years later, which in effect means that the incidence of these types of cancers are likely to remain high amongst populations exposed to high level of arsenic long after these exposures have ended.

    However, it may be possible to take proactive measures to improve the health outcomes of people who have been exposed to high levels of arsenic in the past.

    According to the authors, "possible long-term interventions to reduce mortality and morbidity after high exposures end include disease screening, reducing important co-exposures, heavy metal detox treatments, health services resource planning, and increasing public awareness of arsenic health effects."

    Journal Reference

    Allan H. Smith, Guillermo Marshall, Taehyun Roh, Catterina Ferreccio, Jane Liaw, Craig Steinmaus. Lung, Bladder, and Kidney Cancer Mortality 40 Years After Arsenic Exposure Reduction. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, djx201, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djx201

  • Arsenic Could Affect Drinking Water of 2 Million Americans

    Many of us who have the privilege of being serviced with supply of safe, treated drinking water tend to take our clean water for granted. But not all Americans get their drinking water from a source that is treated; over 44 million US residents obtain their drinking water from private drinking wells, which mostly go unregulated.

    A report which was recently published in the American Chemistry Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology, has revealed that around 2 million of those people are in danger of being exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic — a toxic contaminant that is found naturally in the environment — through their drinking water supply.

    A silver / arsenic rock A silver / arsenic rock

    Arsenic is a drinking water pollutant that occurs naturally in soils, and is widespread within the environment. Exposure to inorganic arsenic over an extended period of time can potentially result in a wide range of health issues, and has also been linked to varies forms of cancer. Recent studies also suggest that low-level arsenic exposure in pregnant women can have a negative effect on fetal growth and can cause pre-term births.

    While municipal water utilities typically have water filtration plants that remove arsenic from water, and need to monitor water for arsenic in order to meet regulatory standards, residents who depend on wells for their drinking water are pretty much left on their own. The onus rests on well owners to monitor their water for contaminants, and if any are found, they are responsible for implementing measures to remove these contaminants. To date, nobody has really focused on who may be getting exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water around the country. This study, conducted by Joseph Ayotte together with a team of fellow researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aims to fill that void.

    Private drinking water well next to an oil tank. Private drinking water well next to an oil tank.

    In order to map out drinking well arsenic levels, the researchers developed a computer model that incorporated existing data of arsenic levels in drinking water wells around the country. They also took into account factors that can affect the concentrations of arsenic, such as aquifer chemistry, geology, and regional rainfall. The model pin-pointed potential arsenic hotspots which were likely to contain wells that had elevated levels of arsenic exceeding the 10 microgram per liter safety limit for drinking water set by the EPA. Hotspots were mostly concentrated around southern Texas, the Southwest, a stretch of land in the upper Midwest and New England. Based on the areas identified, the researchers estimate that the wells affected provide around 2.1 million Americans with drinking water. Many of the affected people may be unaware of the potential risk these contaminated wells pose to their health.

    The researchers conclude by warning private well owners to have their water supply tested for arsenic, and to take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure to this potentially harmful contaminant. A home drinking water filter fitted with a filter that is capable of removing arsenic is a simple mitigating measure that will render your water safe to drink.

    Journal Reference

    Joseph D. Ayotte et al. Estimating the High-Arsenic Domestic-Well Population in the Conterminous United States. Environ. Sci. Technol., October 18, 2017 (web), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02881

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