A research team from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University has come up with new findings suggesting that many US states are exposed to arsenic contamination in drinking water. These results are obtained from a national study that was targeted to find out the risks of consuming toxic, carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic through the drinking water. The complete study findings are published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Arsenic poisoning medically called arsenicosis is a serious health condition that is caused by exposure to high levels of arsenic through a dietary source. By nature, arsenic is a semi-metallic compound that is naturally found in groundwater, worldwide.
Drinking water with high levels of arsenic introduces the compound to the body increasing the risk for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, birth complications, and other fatal conditions. Sometimes arsenic poisoning is also used in deliberate murder and poisoning attempts.
But the arsenic naturally found in the environment is not directly threatening and it only becomes a problem when a person uses a high amount of arsenic for a very long time.
This new study aimed to identify the community groups who are using public water infused with high arsenic concentrations (over10 μg/L).
Previous data on arsenic positioning through drinking water helped to reduce acceptable arsenic levels. So identifying new factors that increase the risk of carcinogen exposure and fatal health complications is a part of public health measures.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a standard level called “maximum contaminant level (MCL)” for the arsenic amount in drinking water from public sources back in 2006. It was set as 10 µg/L at that time.
This new study collected data from 2006 to 2008, after this MCL was imposed, and again in 2009 to 2011 when arsenic concentration was reported higher than MCL levels in 46 states of the USA. In total, they overlooked data from 13 million records.
The data suggested that arsenic concentration in public water has decreased by 10% from the year 2006 to 2011. The Southwestern region reported an 11.4% reduction on average and the New England region reported a 37% average reduction.
Despite the arsenic levels in drinking water showed a reduction in the countryside, some regions still experienced a high arsenic level. These areas include some specific parts where sociodemographic subgroups live. For example, Hispanic communities are highly prevalent in the Southwestern region, Pacific Northwest, as well as the Central Midwest.
Anne Nigra the first author of this study discusses the importance of these findings saying that it may help to serve environmental justice and may urge public health bodies to regulate arsenic levels.
This is the first time that a study has investigated arsenic levels in various geographic regions in the US. It is to highlight the health risks associated with drinking water, and water quality which is unfairly different in all regions. It identifies that Southwestern and Hispanic groups are highly likely to get exposed to arsenic poisoning. It focuses to improve the infrastructure and quality of public water systems, making sure that the arsenic level is not dangerously high in drinking water.