August 27th, 2013 (InsideCostaRica.com) Arsenic has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease and cognitive deficits. A new study confirms that even low exposure to the toxic element in drinking water can impair lung function. And smoking makes the damage worse.
The study was part of a long-term project conducted in Bangladesh, where nearly half the population – some 77 million people – live in areas where groundwater wells contain harmful amounts of arsenic.
Over five years, researchers tested the lung function of 950 individuals who came to their clinic with respiratory symptoms. Then, they correlated that with the patients’ arsenic levels. The results, reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, show that the severity of arsenic’s effects depend on the dose.
Patients exposed to less than twice the dose considered safe had no detectable arsenic-related loss of function. Those with up to 10 times the safe dose showed just a slight decrease in their breathing function. However, patients exposed to arsenic levels higher than that had a significant loss of lung function – comparable to decades of smoking tobacco – putting them at increased risk of developing serious respiratory disease.
Arsenic contamination of water supplies in Costa Rica – specifically in communities in Guanacaste and the Nothern Zone – began to make headlines earlier this year, putting pressure on Costa Rican authorities to act.
The affected communities include Bagaces, La Cruz, and Cañas in Guanacaste, as well as San Carlos, Alajuela.
Samples of up to 186 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water have been found in affected communities – more than 18 times the generally accepted limit.
Health authorities in Cañas report an unusually high rate of kidney failure in the community, which some suspect is related to the arsenic contamination.
Last week, the Comptroller General authorized the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA) to spend $2 million to address the issue.