High-level exposure to lithium, boron, cesium, and arsenic via drinking water in the Andes of northern Argentina

Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Sep 1;44(17):6875-80. doi: 10.1021/es1010384.


Elevated concentrations of arsenic in drinking water are common worldwide, however, little is known about the presence of other potentially toxic elements. We analyzed 31 different elements in drinking water collected in San Antonio de los Cobres and five surrounding Andean villages in Argentina, and in urine of the inhabitants, using ICP-MS. Besides confirmation of elevated arsenic concentrations in the drinking water (up to 210 microg/L), we found remarkably high concentrations of lithium (highest 1000 microg/L), cesium (320 microg/L), rubidium (47 microg/L), and boron (5950 microg/L). Similarly elevated concentrations of arsenic, lithium, cesium, and boron were found in urine of the studied women (N=198): village median values ranged from 26 to 266 microg/L of arsenic, 340 to 4550 microg/L of lithium, 34 to 531 microg/L of cesium, and 2980 to 16,560 microg/L of boron. There is an apparent risk of toxic effects of long-term exposure to several of the elements, and studies on associations with adverse human health effects are warranted, particularly considering the combined, life-long exposure. Because of the observed wide range of concentrations, all water sources used for drinking water should be screened for a large number of elements; obviously, this applies to all drinking water sources globally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Argentina
  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Boron / analysis*
  • Boron / urine
  • Cesium / analysis*
  • Cesium / urine
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lithium / analysis*
  • Lithium / urine
  • Rural Population
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Cesium
  • Lithium
  • Arsenic
  • Boron