Author(s): Kapaj S, Peterson H, Liber K, Bhattacharya P
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Abstract The ill effects of human exposure to arsenic (As) have recently been reevaluated by government agencies around the world. This has lead to a lowering of As guidelines in drinking water, with Canada decreasing the maximum allowable level from 50 to 25 microg/L and the U.S. from 50 to 10 microg/L. Canada is currently contemplating a further decrease to 5 microg/L. The reason for these regulatory changes is the realization that As can cause deleterious effects at lower concentrations than was previously thought. There is a strong relationship between chronic ingestion of As and deleterious human health effects and here we provide an overview of some of the major effects documented in the scientific literature. As regulatory levels of As have been decreased, an increasing number of water supplies will now require removal of As before the water can be used for human consumption. While As exposure can occur from food, air and water, all major chronic As poisonings have stemmed from water and this is usually the predominant exposure route. Exposure to As leads to an accumulation of As in tissues such as skin, hair and nails, resulting in various clinical symptoms such as hyperpigmentation and keratosis. There is also an increased risk of skin, internal organ, and lung cancers. Cardiovascular disease and neuropathy have also been linked to As consumption. Verbal IQ and long term memory can also be affected, and As can suppress hormone regulation and hormone mediated gene transcription. Increases in fetal loss and premature delivery, and decreased birth weights of infants, can occur even at low (<10 microg/L) exposure levels. Malnourished people have been shown to be more predisposed to As-related skin lesions. A large percentage of the population (30-40\%) that is using As-contaminated drinking water can have elevated As levels in urine, hair and nails, while showing no noticeable clinical symptoms, such as skin lesions. It is therefore important to carry out clinical tests of As exposure. Factors combining to increase/decrease the ill effects of As include duration and magnitude of As exposure, source of As exposure, nutrition, age and general health status. Analytical determinations of As poisoning can be made by examining As levels in urine, hair and toenails. Communities and individuals relying on groundwater sources for drinking water need to measure As levels to ensure that their supplies are safe. Communities with water As levels greater than 5 microg/L should consider a program to document As levels in the population.
This article was published in J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng
and referenced in Journal of Clinical Toxicology