Study Shows Bigger Risk From Arsenic in Drinking Water

Sept. 17, 2001
New studies strengthen the evidence of a link between bladder and lung cancer and exposure to arsenic in drinking water, according to a\r\nreport from the National Academies' National Research\r\nCouncil.

New studies strengthen the evidence of a link between bladder and lung cancer and exposure to arsenic in drinking water, according to a report from the National Academies'' National Research Council.

"Even very low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water appear to be associated with a higher incidence of cancer," said Robert Goyer, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor emeritus of pathology, University of Western Ontario, now living in Chapel Hill, N.C. "We estimated the risk of developing cancer at various arsenic concentrations, and now it is up to the federal government to determine an acceptable level to allow in drinking-water supplies."

The report''s findings are consistent with those of a 1999 National Research Council report that found high risks of cancer at EPA''s maximum allowable level for arsenic in drinking water, which at the time was 50 micrograms per liter, or parts per billion.

The agency lowered its standard to 10 parts per billion in January, but in March put the new rule on hold and asked the National Research Council to review research findings from the last two years on the health effects of arsenic. In particular, it asked for an evaluation of the cancer risk posed by daily consumption of water with arsenic levels of 3, 5, 10, and 20 parts per billion.

The committee found that men and women who daily consume water containing 3 parts per billion of arsenic have about a 1 in 1,000 increased risk of developing bladder or lung cancer during their lifetime.

At 5 parts per billion, the risk is about 1.5 in 1,000; at 10 parts per billion, it is greater than 3 in 1,000; and at 20 parts per billion, it is close to 7 in 1,000.

The committee''s risk estimates are greater than those on which EPA based its pending rule in January because the committee used some different estimation methods and assumptions.

For example, it compared cancer rates between people exposed to arsenic in southwestern Taiwan and a large, mostly unexposed Taiwanese population, whereas EPA only compared cancer rates within the study population itself. EPA also assumed that the Taiwanese consumed more food and cooking water that contain arsenic than the committee considered reasonable.

The committee addressed only the hazards from consuming water contaminated with arsenic, which can seep from natural sources or be discharged by agricultural and industrial processes.

It was not asked to evaluate current levels of arsenic in U.S. drinking water supplies or to make policy recommendations, nor was it asked to carry out any of the cost-benefit analyses the government will need in order to set a maximum allowable level for arsenic in drinking water.

At the time of the 1999 report, studies from southwestern Taiwan -- where people were exposed to large amounts of arsenic in drinking water -- were judged to provide the best data for estimating cancer risks.

Since then, additional studies in Taiwan, Bangladesh, Chile, China and Finland have shown an association between exposure to arsenic in drinking water and cancer.

The data showing a relationship between chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water and cancer are abundant. However, more research is needed to study the extent to which exposure also causes diseases other than cancer, the committee said. Some studies overseas have linked arsenic exposure to diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, and birth defects. Future studies also should be large enough to detect risks to potentially sensitive groups, such as children and smokers. In addition, the biological mechanisms by which arsenic causes cancer need to be better understood, according to the committee.

by Virginia Foran

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!