It’s in the water: Arsenic found in drinking water can lead to heart failure
05/03/2020 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the Earth's crust. It is widely distributed in the air, the land and most especially the water. It commonly enters the body through the food you eat and the water you drink. A study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging has found that if arsenic enters the body, it can thicken the walls of the heart's main pumping changer. This damage can eventually lead to heart failure.

According to Ana Navas-Acien, senior author of the study and physician-epidemiologist at Columbia University, their study is the first done in the United States that properly measures how arsenic exposure affects heart function.

“Few people, including clinicians, are aware that metals exposure matters,” Navas-Acien said.

Study focused on private wells used by Native Americans

Navas-Acien's study surveyed 1,337 Native Americans from North and South Dakota, Arizona and Oklahoma to see how exposed they were to low to moderate levels of arsenic in the drinking water. None of them had cardiovascular disease or diabetes at the beginning of the study. Navas-Acien and her team's research was done over a five-year period.

The researchers analyzed data gathered from heart ultrasounds and urine samples and found that if the participants saw a twofold increase of arsenic in their systems, they were 1.5 times more likely to have left ventricle hypertrophy, or when the left ventricle thickens, and were also 1.5 times more likely to have elevated levels of blood pressure. Even participants who had normal blood pressure levels were 1.2 times more likely to develop left ventricle hypertrophy if their bodies had higher levels of arsenic.


Furthermore, the study authors found that this relationship between arsenic exposure and heart problems was more likely in people who already had pre-hypertension, which suggests that the toxic effects of arsenic are more pronounced in people with heart conditions.

And while Navas-Acien's study only looked at predominantly Native American communities, the researchers believe that the results more than likely also apply to people in other parts of the United States that are exposed to high amounts of arsenic in their drinking water.

Navas-Acien hopes to continue her research and look at 10 years' worth of data into arsenic exposure. She believes it's important “to see how exposure reductions over time translate into health benefits, or if the effects of past exposures persist.”

Arsenic found in startling amounts in drinking water and in food

Arsenic seeps into drinking water from a variety of sources. It's commonly found in the tap water used by private wells, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is unable to properly regulate. In Maine and New Hampshire, for example, where many residents rely on private wells for drinking water, around 25 percent of well water samples exceed New Hampshire's maximum safety level of 5 parts per billion (ppb), while 15 percent exceed the EPA's maximum safety level of 10 ppb.

Around 44 million people in the contiguous United States use water taken from domestic wells, according to Joe Ayotte of the United States Geological Survey. Of those 44 million, around 2.1 million may be getting their drinking water from wells that have high concentrations of arsenic.

Arsenic can also seep into the food you eat through the use of pesticides and soil contamination. Navas-Acien noted that rice and apple juice are particularly vulnerable. (Related: Food safety tips: How to reduce the arsenic in your rice by 80 percent.)

Navas-Acien heavily suggests that people who primarily use water retrieved from private wells should treat their water in order to lower their risk of arsenic poisoning.

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