Background: Arsenic in drinking water has been associated with increases in lung disease, but information on the long-term impacts of early-life exposure or moderate exposure levels are limited.
Methods: We investigated pulmonary disease and lung function in 795 subjects from three socio-demographically similar areas in northern Chile: Antofagasta, which had a well-described period of high arsenic water concentrations (860μg/L) from 1958 to 1970; Iquique, which had long-term arsenic water concentrations near 60μg/L; and Arica, with long-term water concentrations ≤10μg/L.
Results: Compared to adults never exposed >10μg/L, adults born in Antofagasta during the high exposure period had elevated odds ratios (OR) of respiratory symptoms (e.g., OR for shortness of breath=5.56, 90% confidence interval (CI): 2.68-11.5), and decreases in pulmonary function (e.g., 224mL decrease in forced vital capacity in nonsmokers, 90% CI: 97-351mL). Subjects with long-term exposure to arsenic water concentrations near 60μg/L also had increases in some pulmonary symptoms and reduced lung function.
Conclusions: Overall, these findings provide new evidence that in utero or childhood arsenic exposure is associated with non-malignant pulmonary disease in adults. They also provide preliminary new evidence that long-term exposures to moderate levels of arsenic may be associated with lung toxicity, although the magnitude of these latter findings were greater than expected and should be confirmed.
Keywords: Arsenic; Chile; Drinking water; Early life; Long-term exposures; Lung function; Pulmonary disease.
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