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Arsenic in drinking water can lead to miscarriages and sudden infant death

For the first time, researchers have been able to show that mothers who drink water containing arsenic run an increased risk of having a miscarriage or losing their child in its first year. This has been demonstrated by a research team from Sweden and Bangladesh in an article published last Saturday in the Net edition of American Journal of Epidemiology.

Arsenic has a number of known serious health effects, including increased cancer risk, higher frequency of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Until now, it has not been possible to show any impact on fetuses and newborns, even though a few studies have suggested such consequences. A number of countries, especially poor ones, have high concentrations of arsenic in their well water. In Bangladesh, sediment containing arsenic has been carried with rivers for millennia, creating health risks for nearly half of the population.

In the current study, Anisur Rahman from ICDDRB (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Research) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and a doctoral candidate at the Unit for International Maternal and Child Health (IMCH) at Uppsala University, Sweden, has shown that mothers who drink this arsenic-tainted water run an increased risk of having a miscarriage or losing their child in its first year.

This is the first time statistically significant effects have been shown. They were apparent even at relatively low levels of concentration of arsenic, 50 micrograms/liter. The findings are based on more than 29,000 pregnancies and were gathered in Matlab, Bangladesh, in a collaborative effort involving ICDDRB, Uppsala University, and the Karolinska Institute.

“The study shows how important it is for the population to get arsenic-free water as soon as possible, and that pregnant women must be given priority in this work,” says Lars-Åke Persson, professor of international child health at Uppsala University.

Anneli Waara | alfa
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