Lung function in adults following in utero and childhood exposure to arsenic in drinking water: preliminary findings

Evidence suggests that arsenic in drinking water causes non-malignant lung disease, but nearly all data concern exposed adults. The desert city of Antofagasta (population 257,976) in northern Chile had high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water (>800 íg/l) from 1958 until 1970, when a new treatment plant was installed. This scenario, with its large population, distinct period of high exposure, and accurate data on past exposure, is virtually unprecedented in environmental epidemiology. In the present study, the authors conducted a pilot study on early-life arsenic exposure and long-term lung function. The authors presented the preliminary findings because of the magnitude of the effects observed. A convenience sample consisting primarily of nursing school employees in Antofagasta and Arica, a city with low drinking water arsenic, were recruited for the study. Lung function and respiratory symptoms in 32 adults exposed to >800 íg/l arsenic before age 10 were compared to 65 adults without high early-life exposure. Early-life arsenic exposure was associated with 11.5% lower forced expiratory volume in 1s (FEV1) (P ) 0.04), 12.2% lower forced vital capacity (FVC) (P ) 0.04), and increased breathlessness (prevalence odds ratio ) 5.94, 95% confidence interval 1.36-26.0). Exposure response relationships between early-life arsenic concentration and adult FEV1 and FVC were also identified (P trend ) 0.03). The authors concluded that early-life exposure to arsenic in drinking water may have irreversible respiratory effects of a magnitude similar to smoking throughout adulthood. Given the small study size and non-random recruitment methods, further research is needed to confirm these findings.

Authors: Dauphine, David C.; Ferreccio, Catterina; Guntur, Sandeep; Yuan, Yan; Hammond, S. Katharine; Balmes, John; Smith, Allan H.; Steinmaus, Craig ;Full Source: International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health [online computer file] 2011, 84(6), 591-600 (Eng) ;