Risk for skin lesions increases with low-dose exposure to arsenic in drinking water

Millions of persons around the world are exposed to low doses of arsenic through drinking water. However, up until now estimates of the health effects associated with low-dose exposure had been based on research from high-dose levels. In a study of more than 11,000 people in Bangladesh, research conducted by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health clearly provides evidence that a population exposed to well water with arsenic concentrations of as little as 50 ug/l is at risk for skin lesions. The report also concludes that older, male, and thinner participants were more likely to be affected by arsenic exposure.

The Mailman School team of researchers evaluated the relationship between arsenic exposure from drinking water and premalignant skin lesions over the course of three years. Participants were evaluated for arsenic exposure based on well-water arsenic concentration and usage. "Because of the wide range of arsenic exposure in the study population and the relatively large sample size, we were able to estimate and report dose-response relations even at the very low end of the arsenic exposure range. In particular, arsenic exposure seems to increase the risk of skin lesions at the low end of exposure in this population," said Habibul Ahsan, M.D., MMedSc, associate professor and director of the Center for Genetics in Epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and principal investigator.

The researchers indicate that a unique opportunity exists in Bangladesh to study chronic arsenic exposure measured at the individual level, because the majority of the population uses a single well as their primary source of drinking water, while, for example, in the United States, people usually drink water from multiple sources. However, up until now even assessments at the individual level were extremely difficult because exposures measurements were from years past or the Bangladeshi population drank water fr

Contact: Stephanie Berger
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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