High risks of lung disease associated with early-life and moderate lifetime arsenic exposure in northern Chile

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2016 Dec 15:313:10-15. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2016.10.006. Epub 2016 Oct 8.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Chile / epidemiology
  • Drinking Water / chemistry
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / chemically induced
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic