But these deadly and debilitating effects all take a long time to manifest. The latency period for cancers linked to arsenic is estimated to be about 20 or more years. And of the 57 million rural Bangladeshis who have been exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic, said Carson, only a small fraction will ever get that sick. The initial (and presumably more common) effects, on the other hand, are feelings of general lethargy and sores on hands and feet, along with headaches and confusion effects, in other words, that are not necessarily going to show up as reported health conditions but that will, the research team hypothesized, affect the labor supply.
The deleterious and quantifiable impact on labor, Carson believes, can be immediately understood by government officials who are sometimes tempted, especially in the case of impoverished countries, to put economic development ahead of health, to think "let's get income up first, then we can clean up."
"Environment is not a luxury," Carson said. "Our paper shows that the environmentally related health problems are sufficiently large that they're holding back development."
For their study, Carson and colleagues looked at the relationship between arsenic exposure and hours worked by households as reported in the Bangladesh government's standard survey used for this purpose. Their sample included 4,259 rural households from the Household Income and
Expenditure Survey carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2000 and was matched with data on arsenic contamination from a large-scale study done by the British Geological Survey.
|Contact: Inga Kiderra|
University of California - San Diego