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

  • Author(s): Dauphiné, David C;
  • Ferreccio, Catterina;
  • Guntur, Sandeep;
  • Yuan, Yan;
  • Hammond, S Katharine;
  • Balmes, John;
  • Smith, Allan H;
  • Steinmaus, Craig
  • et al.


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 μg/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. We conducted a pilot study on early-life arsenic exposure and long-term lung function. We present these preliminary findings because of the magnitude of the effects observed.


We recruited a convenience sample consisting primarily of nursing school employees in Antofagasta and Arica, a city with low drinking water arsenic. Lung function and respiratory symptoms in 32 adults exposed to >800 μg/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 1 s (FEV(1)) (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 FEV(1) and FVC were also identified (P trend = 0.03).


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.

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