Toenails as a biomarker of inorganic arsenic intake from drinking water and foods

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2007 Jan 15;70(2):148-58. doi: 10.1080/15287390600755232.


Toenails were used recently in epidemiological and environmental health studies as a means of assessing exposure to arsenic from drinking water. While positive correlations between toenail and drinking-water arsenic concentrations were reported in the literature, a significant percentage of the variation in toenail arsenic concentration remains unexplained by drinking-water concentration alone. Here, the influence of water consumption at home and work, food intake, and drinking-water concentration on toenail arsenic concentration was investigated using data from a case-control study being conducted in 11 counties of Michigan. The results from 440 controls are presented. Log-transformed drinking-water arsenic concentration at home was a significant predictor (p < .05) of toenail arsenic concentration (R2 = .32). When arsenic intake from consumption of tap water and beverages made from tap water (microg/L arsenic x L/d = microg/d) was used as a predictor variable, the correlation was markedly increased for individuals with >1 microg/L arsenic (R2 = .48). Increased intake of seafood and intake of arsenic from water at work were independently and significantly associated with increased toenail arsenic concentration. However, when added to intake at home, work drinking-water exposure and food intake had little influence on the overall correlation. These results suggest that arsenic exposure from drinking-water consumption is an important determinant of toenail arsenic concentration, and therefore should be considered when validating and applying toenails as a biomarker of arsenic exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agaricales
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Nails / chemistry*
  • Oryza
  • Seafood
  • Seaweed
  • Water Supply / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Arsenic