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  • 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.


    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,

  • 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

  • High Levels of Arsenic in Drinking Water Lowers IQ in Children

    Arsenic toxicity as a result of drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic found naturally in the environment is a world-wide health issue, particularly in eastern countries such as India where there are high levels of naturally occurring arsenic and where drinking water is obtained mainly from local wells.

    While the effect of high levels of arsenic exposure in adults is well documented, relatively little is known about the effects of chronic arsenic toxicity in children. The few scientific studies that focus on the health impacts of arsenic exposure in children show that the tell-tale signs of arsenic posioning, such as abnormal skin conditions and skin pigmentation, vary from region to region. Preliminary studies have revealed that children exposed to arsenic in drinking water suffer significant morbidity including skin lesions, chronic lung disease and impaired intellectual functioning.

    Earlier studies on the effect of arsenic exposure on intellectual function in children have been conducted in Thailand, Bangladesh, China, and India. Now a recent study has revealed the effects of aresenic exposure on children closer to home.

    child learning

    US Study Highlighting the Effect of Arsenic on Child IQ

    The results of a recent study conducted by researchers from Columbia University, which was published online in the scientific journal Environmental Health, shows that school children attending schools in Maine who are exposed to high levels of arsenic in their drinking water exhibit a decline in child intelligence. This study builds on previous studies that looked at the impact of arsenic exposure on child intelligence conducted in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.

    Jospeh Graziano, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, together with his team of research associates, assessed the intelligence of 272 children between grades 3 to 5. The children, whose average age was 10, attended schools within three Maine school districts where water used for drinking and cooking originated from private water wells that are known to contain high levels of arsenic.

    The researchers assessed the intelligence of the children with a commonly used intelligence assessment tool – the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV) – and found that children exposed to arsenic in their drinking water had lower scores across most of the WISC-IV indices. After controlling for external factors such as parental intelligence and education, size of the family, school district and other characteristics related to the home environment, children who had high levels of exposure to arsenic (> 5ppb) in their drinking water exhibited a decline of 5-6 points in Full Scale, Working Memory, Perceptual Reasoning and Verbal Comprehension scores. According to Gail Wasserman, professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University and lead author of the paper, this decline in intelligence is significant and could translate into learning problems and problems with schoolwork.


    The researchers took water samples from an external point of entry as well as from the kitchen faucet. They also analyzed drinking habits, how long the family had lived in their home, together with how the water well was constructed and if any water filters were used. Water arsenic levels recorded in water samples taken from the kitchen faucet measured 9.88 ppb on average, with over 30% exceeding the standard of 10 ppb recommended by the EPA and WHO. The highest level of arsenic measured was 115.3 ppb – more than 10 times higher than the EPA standard.

    “The strength of associations found in this study is comparable to the modest increases that have been found in blood lead, an established risk factor for diminished IQ,” said Dr. Graziano.

    “Our findings of adverse impact in a U.S. sample, particularly in performance-related functioning, gives confidence to the generalizability of findings from our work in Bangladesh, where we also observed a steep drop in intelligence scores in the very low range of water arsenic concentrations,” said Dr. Graziano. “Collectively, our work in Bangladesh and in Maine suggests that aspects of performance intelligence, particularly perceptual reasoning and working memory, are impacted by exposure to arsenic in drinking water.”

    How to Protect Your Kids

    There is currently an outreach program underway tasked at educating families who are at risk of arsenic exposure in the region. Dr Graziano points out that a standard filter available at hardware stores in inadequate for removing arsenic from drinking water. However, affected households can take measures to address the situation. Dr Graziano and his fellow experts recommend that those exposed to high levels of arsenic in their drinking water should filter their drinking water with a high quality filter that is capable of removing arsenic.

    Start drinking arsenic-free water today – purchase a Berkey Filter water filter and get 50% off the price of an arsenic filter when added to your order. Note: because of its smaller size, the PF-2 fluoride/arsenic filter will not fit into the lower chamber of the Go Berkey.

    Journal Reference:

    Gail A Wasserman, Xinhua Liu, Nancy J LoIacono, Jennie Kline, Pam Factor-Litvak, Alexander van Geen, Jacob L Mey, Diane Levy, Richard Abramson, Amy Schwartz, Joseph H Graziano. A cross-sectional study of well water arsenic and child IQ in Maine schoolchildren. Environmental Health, 2014; 13 (1): 23 DOI: 10.1186/1476-069X-13-23

    Majumdar KK, Guha Mazumder D N. Effect of drinking arsenic-contaminated water in children. Indian J Public Health 2012;56:223-6

    Guha Mazumder DN, Haque R, Ghosh N, De BK, Santra A, Chakraborty D, et al. Arsenic levels in drinking water and the prevalence of skin lesions in West Bengal, India. Int J Epidemiol 1998;27:871-7.

    Siripitayakunkait U, Vishudhiphan P, Pradipasen M, Vorapongsathron T. Association between chronic arsenic exposure and children's intelligence in Thailand. In: Chappell WR, Abernathy CO, Calderon RL, editors. Arsenic Exposure and Health Effects.Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd; 1999. p.141-9.

    Wasserman GA. Water arsenic exposure and children's intellectual function in Araihazar, Bangladesh. Arch Environ Health 2004;4:223-34.

    Wang SX, Wang ZH, Cheng XT, Li J, Sang ZP, Zhang XD, et al. Arsenic and fluoride exposure in drinking water: Children's IQ and growth in Shanyin county, Shanxi province, China. Environ Health Perspect 2007;115:643-7.

    von Ehrenstein OS, Poddar S, Yuan Y, Mazumder DG, Eskenazi B, Basu A, et al. Children's intellectual function in relation to arsenic exposure. Epidemiology 2007;18:44-51

  • Harmful Effects of Arsenic Exposure Include Irreversible Lung Damage

    A recently published study confirms that ingesting drinking water tainted with arsenic can significantly impair lung functioning and cause long-term damage, even at relatively low-moderate levels of exposure. The damage is on a par to that caused by exposure to tobacco smoke over long periods, and smoking exacerbates the situation further, causing even more damage.

    “Restrictive lung defects, such as we saw in those exposed to well-water arsenic, are usually progressive and irreversible,” says Habibul Ahsan, MD, MMedSc, Director of the Center for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Chicago Medicine, and co-author of the study. “They can lead over time to serious lung disease.”

    The results of the population-based study, which were published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (August 2013), show that lung damage is yet another health issue to add to the ever increasing list of health effects caused by arsenic, including various forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, developmental problems and reduced cognitive functioning, and even premature death. The study was conducted in Bangladesh where it is estimated that approximately 77 million people, or roughly half the population of Bangladesh – the eighth most populated country in the world – obtain their drinking water from wells that are contaminated with arsenic.

    Lung Exam Lung Exam

    While the problem of arsenic in Bangladesh's groundwater is acknowledged, in many other parts of the world, including some regions in the US, much less is known about the levels of arsenic in groundwater or the risk of exposure from drinking contaminated water or contaminated foods. In addition to monitoring drinking water, researchers have now also started screening certain food items, including apple juice and rice syrup, that have higher levels of arsenic than the 10 ppb set as the safe limit for drinking water in the US.

    “It is challenging to conduct rigorous biomedical research in a place like Bangladesh that lacks the infrastructure for such projects,” says Ahsan, “but over the last 12 to15 years we have learned how to meet those challenges. We now have a large series of related findings that map out exposures and illustrate the severity of the problem. Our findings reinforce the growing interest in looking more carefully at arsenic-exposure issues in the United States,” he adds.

    Bangladesh is comprised of many large river systems bordered by low-lying plains, which makes it vulnerable to flooding, which together with inadequate sanitation has led to many freshwater sources being contaminated with bacteria. Consequently Bangladesh has a history of high rates of infectious disease resulting in a high rates of child mortality – in the '60's more than 250,000 children died annually as a result of waterborne diseases, most of which could have been prevented if they had access to safe drinking water. So, in order to prevent these unnecessary deaths, international humanitarian organizations stepped up their campaign to provide safe drinking water to the people of Bangladesh, installing millions of wells so that people could pump clean, unpolluted water up from deep underground. However, while the water pumped up from underground was free from bacterial pollutants that were prolific in surface water systems, researchers have since discovered that it is contaminated with toxic arsenic, and according to the World Health Organization, represents “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history”.

    For this study, the research team assessed the health of 950 participants who complained of respiratory conditions, such as coughing or breathing difficulties to clinic medical staff over a five year period between 2005 and 2010. The researchers assessed the lung function of each patient and recorded their arsenic levels. Patients were divided into three different groups according to their level of exposure, which was determined by measuring the arsenic in their urine as well as the arsenic levels of their drinking water. Doctors then assessed the lung function of these patients using two standard lung-function tests. Both tests revealed that lung damage as a result of arsenic exposure increased as the levels of exposure increased.

    The results of the study show that the group of patients that had the lowest level of exposure to arsenic – whose drinking water contained arsenic at levels below 19 ppb – showed no detectable loss of lung function, while the group that was exposed to relatively low doses of arsenic (19-97 ppb) in their drinking water showed a slightly reduced lung function, but this was not considered significant. However, for the group that was exposed to moderate levels of arsenic in their drinking water (> 97 ppb) lung function was significantly reduced, with the test results showing a decrease in lung function of three times less for the first test and six times less for the second. If the patients smoked, the damage was amplified further – roughly 90% of male patients smoked.

    “These results clearly demonstrate significant impairment of lung function associated with lower concentrations than previously reported,” explains Ahsan. “Those most affected were older, thinner, less educated and more likely to use tobacco. Many of these people have limited excess lung capacity. It made a significant difference in their lives.”

    According to the paper, “this suggests that a large proportion of the country's population are at increased risk of developing serious respiratory disease, including COPD, bronchitis and interstitial lung disease in the future.”

    “This is not just a problem for South Asia,” stresses Ahsan. “About 13 million people in the United States get water from a private well that contains more arsenic than the legal limit. And we are becoming more and more aware that exposure through certain foods might be a bigger issue than drinking water. No comparable, large, prospective study has been done in this country.”

    If you are concerned about the levels of arsenic in your drinking water consider investing in a Berkey water filter.  Both the black berkey filters that come standard in the upper chamber and the lower chamber PF-2 fluoride and arsenic filters will remove arsenic that may be lurking in your drinking water.

    Journal Reference

    Parvez F., Chen Y., Yunus M., Olopade C., Segers S., Slavkovich V., Argos M., Hasan R., Ahmed A. & Islam T. & (2013). Arsenic Exposure and Impaired Lung Function: Findings from a Large Population-based Prospective Cohort Study, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 130712141304005. DOI: 10.1164/rccm.201212-2282OC

  • 'Safe' Levels of Arsenic in Drinking Water may not be Safe for Pregnant/Lactating Mothers and their Offspring

    A study conducted by researchers from the Dartmouth Superfund Research Program on Toxic Metals has revealed that consuming water containing arsenic at levels currently deemed safe by the EPA (10 ppb) causes adverse health effects in pregnant/lactating mice and their offspring. The researchers found that ingesting arsenic in drinking water at low concentrations (10 ppb) disrupted lipid metabolism in pregnant and lactating mothers, resulting in a reduction of nutrients in the blood and breast milk. Consequently, their suckling young showed significant signs of stunted growth and development during the postnatal phase of development before weaning. However, litter size and gestation period were not adversely affected.

    “The pups were essentially malnourished; they were small and underdeveloped,” says Joshua Hamilton, coordinator of the study and co-author of the research paper, which was published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE (May 31, 2012). When the pups were fed milk from a mother who had not been exposed to arsenic in her drinking water, their growth rates improved, however, only the male pups fully caught up with developing young mice that had not been exposed to arsenic.

    The Chemically Sensitive Young

    According to Hamilton, offspring are particularly sensitive to environmental chemical contaminants because “they are developing rapidly. It's not hard for very low doses of a chemical to have big effects on a developing animal.” The study showed that mothers who ingested arsenic with their drinking water had concentrations of triglyceride in their blood and breast milk that were significantly lower than normal, indicating a disruption in the metabolism and storage of fat in their systems.

    “Normally, the body is very good at storing fat and glucose for later use”, explains Hamilton. “Up to a certain point, if a mother is malnourished during and after pregnancy, the offspring will not be compromised, because her body uses nutrients it has stored to nourish the baby. Her body will basically 'eat itself' to provide for the baby.” But, because mothers exposed to arsenic have this protective mechanism disrupted, they are unable to provide the necessary nutrients to the pups through the breast milk. The arsenic compromised mothers also exhibited a condition referred to as hepatic steatosis, more commonly known as 'fatty liver', where fat accumulates in the liver abnormally.

    The pups from mothers exposed to arsenic showed significantly stunted growth just ten days after birth, and at day 21, when they are typically weaned, they were still far too small to be removed from their mothers.

    The EPA recently reduced the Maximum Contaminant Level safety standard for arsenic in public drinking water supplies to 10 ppb, which it considers 'safe' for long-term exposure over a lifetime. However, many unregulated drinking water sources from private wells, many of which are situated in areas that are known to have high naturally occurring geological concentrations of arsenic, have concentrations exceeding 100 ppb.

    Arsenic Map - US

    Should 'Safe' Arsenic Levels be Adjusted?

    “This study raises a couple of issues. First, we have to think again about whether 10 ppb arsenic as a U.S. drinking water standard is safe and protective of human health,” says Hamilton, who is a chief academic and scientific officer at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and a senior scientist in the MBL Bay Paul Center.

    “Second, this study reiterates an emerging idea in toxicology that pregnant women and their offspring are uniquely sensitive to chemicals in their environment. There is a special window of vulnerability for both of them”, explains Hamilton. “Third, if you are on a private water system, particularly in a region with high arsenic, have your water tested so that you know what you are drinking.”

    Public water suppliers publish freely available records of levels of regulated chemicals, including arsenic, in drinking water. If you are concerned about levels of arsenic in drinking water from a private well, you can request the Department of Environmental Protection or similar local agency to test a water sample for you to determine concentrations of arsenic or other chemical contaminants. If arsenic levels are high, the best solution for those accessing drinking water from private wells is to purchase bottled water or a water filter that will remove arsenic from the water. A Big Berkey water filter fitted with arsenic water filters in the lower filter chamber will remove arsenic from drinking water to make it safe to drink. The black berkeys that come standard with every system also remove fluoride from the drinking water.

    Be Aware of Your Arsenic Intake!

    “The message here is: Pay attention to your total arsenic exposure, both in drinking water and also in food.” stressed Hamilton. “Pregnant women, especially, need to be very careful and protective of their health. Environmental chemicals such as arsenic, along with tobacco, alcohol, drugs—all of these chemicals are potential stressors to pregnant women and their offspring.”

    “The research conducted by Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Kozul-Horvath is an important component of our Superfund Research Program (SRP) at Dartmouth,” says Bruce Stanton, Dartmouth SRP Director. “These significant results add to the body of knowledge we are developing pertaining to the sources of arsenic, its effects at the cellular level, the ways in which it affects the health of mammals like mice and ultimately, how it causes disease and harmful health outcomes for humans.”

    For more information on arsenic in general as well as arsenic in private well water visit the Dartmouth Toxic Metals web site.


  • Legal Levels of Arsenic in U.S. Drinking Water May Harm Babies and Mothers

    We've previously posted about the dangers of Arsenic in drinking water and the importance of testing well water that isn't regulated by state or federal Arsenic standards, but a new study indicates that everyone may have more to worry about than we thought. Researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth published a study showing that the Arsenic in drinking water at the Environmental Protection Agency's current limit may cause significant harm to babies and mothers:

    Pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers who consumed low levels (10 ppb) of arsenic in their drinking water, the scientists found, exhibited significant disruption in their lipid metabolism, leading to diminished nutrients in their blood and in their breast milk. As a result, their offspring showed significant growth and development deficits during the postnatal period before weaning. Birth outcomes such as litter size and length of gestation were unaffected.

    EPA Drinking Water Regulations Not Protecting Women and Children from Arsenic?

    "[W]e gave [mice] drinking water with arsenic in it with exactly the same dose that you can drink out of your tap that the EPA says is safe, and bad things happened to them" author Dr. Joshua Hamilton of the Marine Biological Laboratory told Fox News. "It needs further investigation, but certainly it's a cautionary tale that at such a low dose, we're seeing these dramatic effects on these animals."

    The researchers suggest that arsenic disrupts a pregnant or nursing mother's metabolism, making less nutrition available to her fetus or baby through blood or breastmilk. Additionally, arsenic-exposed mothers developed non-alcoholic "fatty liver" disease, for which the implications are not clear but is connected to metabolic syndrome (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol). The effect on her offspring was clear:

    As early as day 10 after birth, the pups of arsenic-exposed mothers showed significant deficits in growth, as evidenced by body weight. At the typical time of weaning (21 days after birth), many of the arsenic-exposed offspring were so small that it was not feasible to separate them from their mothers.

    The authors of this study didn't actually set out to study the effect of arsenic on growth and development. They had intended to study the susceptibility of mice exposed to arsenic to subsequent flu exposure, but the effects of the arsenic alone were so dramatic that the researchers aborted their study. "[W]e have to think again about whether 10 ppb arsenic as a U.S. drinking water standard is safe and protective of human health", says Hamilton, who is the MBL's chief academic and scientific officer and a senior scientist in the MBL Bay Paul Center.

    Get The Arsenic Out of Your Water with A Berkey Arsenic Water Filter

    Arsenic is a naturally occurring metal. It is a bi-product of many mining operations and used in a wide variety of industrial processes and as a pesticide. Meat, fish and poultry are responsible for about 80% of dietary exposure for most Americans. Arsenic can also be inhaled from burning of fossil fuels that contain arsenic, cotton gins, glass manufacturing operations, pesticide manufacturing facilities, smelters, and tobacco smoke.

    "The message here is, pay attention to your total arsenic exposure, both in drinking water and also in food.", Hamilton says. "Pregnant women, especially, need to be very careful and protective of their health. Environmental chemicals such as arsenic, along with tobacco, alcohol, drugs; all of these chemicals are potential stressors to pregnant women and their offspring."

    The combination of the Black Berkey filters and PF-2 Arsenic and Fluoride Water Filters uniquely targets the entire family of arsenic oxide anions as well as the arsenic cations in drinking water.

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