-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, April 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to arsenic
in well water may lead to lower scores on intelligence tests,
according to a study of children in Maine.
Arsenic is a natural element that is found in soil and minerals,
however, it can cause many health problems, and high levels of
exposure can even cause death.
Previous research in South Asia showed that exposure to arsenic
in drinking water harms children's intelligence, but this study is
the first to look at the issue in the United States.
The new study included 272 children in grades 3 through 5 who
were given a standard intelligence test. The youngsters lived in
three school districts in Maine where household wells are the main
source for drinking and cooking water.
The investigators found that exposure to arsenic in well water
was associated with lower intelligence scores. However, this link
does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Specifically, children exposed to well water with arsenic levels
of 5 parts per billion showed significant declines in intelligence
that could result in problems in the classroom, the study authors
reported in the April 1 online edition of the journal
In the study, the average water arsenic levels were 9.88
micrograms per liter (mcg/L), and nearly one-third of samples
exceeded the maximum 10 mcg/L guideline of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. The highest
level was 115.3 mcg/L.
The strength of the link between arsenic and lower intelligence
is similar to that seen with lead, which is known to reduce
intelligence, according to study leader Joseph Graziano, a
professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia
"Even though purchasing a standard filter at the hardware store is inadequate for treating well water, the good news is that there are steps one can take to ameliorate the situation," Graziano said in a university news release.
Installing what's known as a "reverse osmosis system" can lessen
the effects of arsenic in drinking water, he said, although it is
costly to do so. Education programs about arsenic exposure are
being offered to families in the Maine school districts that were
included in the study, Graziano added.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about
arsenic in drinking water.
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