News Feature | April 15, 2014

Study Links Arsenic To Lower Intelligence In Kids

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A groundbreaking study in Maine has linked drinking water contaminated with arsenic to developmental challenges in children. 

"Research involving hundreds of Maine children might represent a breakthrough about whether exposure to arsenic in drinking water — even at very low levels — could lead to reduced intelligence," the Kennebec Journal reported

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of New Hampshire led the five-year project, focusing on Maine children who have been exposed to contaminated well water. The findings reveal "a threat to child development," the study said. 

The research "showed that even at low levels, 5 or more parts per billion, arsenic consumed in drinking water could correlate to lower intelligence, as much as 5 to 6 points on IQ tests," the news report said.  

"The strength of associations found in this study is comparable to the modest increases that have been found in blood lead, an established risk factor for diminished IQ," said Joseph Graziano, a professor at Columbia who led the research, in an announcement from the university. 

Earlier research has indicated a higher than average rate of arsenic exposure in certain areas of Maine, according to the announcement. 

The research adjusted IQ scores based on maternal IQ and education, characteristics of the home, school district, and number of siblings. 

"The children who were exposed to greater than 5 parts arsenic per billion of household well water (WAs ≥ 5 μg/L) showed reductions in Full Scale, Working Memory, Perceptual Reasoning and Verbal Comprehension scores, losses of 5-6 points, considered a significant decline, that may translate to problems in school," the announcement said, citing Gail Wasserman, a study author. 

The Maine Sentinel editorial board advocated for a public policy response to the findings. 

"Something needs to be done, and it’ll have to be done at the state level," the commentary said. 

"The federal government last changed the standard for arsenic in drinking water in 2002, lowering it from 50 parts per billion to 10. Further studies on the risk of arsenic are being conducted now, and the results of those will have to match the Maine study before a lower standard is even considered," it said. 

Image credit: "Teacher In Classroom," © 2006, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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