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Deadly effect of arsenic in drinking water measured in massive study
Date:6/18/2010

ter exposure to arsenic have lacked resolution, relying upon retrospective analysis and estimations of exposure on a group, rather than individual, level.

The HEALS project sought to improve upon this body of research with a prospective study, actively monitoring exposure levels in a large set of individual Bangladeshis. Nearly 12,000 subjects were recruited and tested for baseline arsenic levels in drinking water and urine between 2000 and 2002, then underwent follow-up tests approximately every 2 years thereafter.

"We set up this study to measure health effects based on individual level data so that other factors or biases that may affect our study findings were much less likely," Ahsan said. "This allowed us to examine disease quite reasonably in a more accurate way."

The collection of so many samples was no simple task. More than 100 staff members traveled to remote Bangladesh villages by foot, car, or boat to collect samples from subjects and measure arsenic levels in the water from local wells. Millions of such wells were installed by global health organizations in the 1970's to provide a supposedly cleaner source of water than that available from dirty rivers and streams.

"In Bangladesh, waterborne illnesses have gone down in the last 2 to 3 decades," Ahsan said. "Unfortunately, there is now this new problem affecting them."

While a quarter of the study's population was within the WHO-determined safe range of 10 g/L, the upper quartile was exposed to 27 times that amount on average. Those individuals were found to be 68 percent more likely to die from a chronic disease over the time period studied, compared to individuals with exposure less than 10 g/L, after controlling for other factors such as sex, age, body mass, blood pressure and smoking.

Subjects with moderate arsenic exposure were at a smaller yet still elevated risk of mortality. When the entire population exposed to arsenic levels above the WHO g
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Contact: Robert Mitchum
robert.mitchum@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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