Ohio Arsenic Study Exposure Assessment Inadequate, Inconclusive

Alarming as this study may appear, it is simply another in a long line of weak ecologic studies examining birth outcomes and drinking water that rely on an inadequate exposure assessment. The exposure was not directly measured and is unknown. In studies such as this statistical manipulations simply cannot reliably compensate for an inadequate assessment of contaminant exposure.

Almberg KS, Turyk ME, Jones RM, Rankin K, Freels S, Graber JM, Stayner LT. Arsenic in drinking water and adverse birth outcomes in Ohio. Environ Res. 2017 May 15;157:52-59. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.05.010.

BACKGROUND: Arsenic in drinking water has been associated with adverse reproductive outcomes in areas with high levels of naturally occurring arsenic. Less is known about the reproductive effects of arsenic at lower levels.

OBJECTIVES: This research examined the association between low-level arsenic in drinking water and small for gestational age (SGA), term low birth weight (term LBW), very low birth weight (VLBW), preterm birth (PTB), and very preterm birth (VPTB) in the state of Ohio.

METHODS: Exposure was defined as the mean annual arsenic concentration in drinking water in each county in Ohio from 2006 to 2008 using Safe Drinking Water Information System data. Birth outcomes were ascertained from the birth certificate records of 428,804 births in Ohio from the same time period. Multivariable generalized estimating equation logistic regression models were used to assess the relationship between arsenic and each birth outcome separately. Sensitivity analyses were performed to examine the roles of private well use and prenatal care utilization in these associations.

RESULTS: Arsenic in drinking water was associated with increased odds of VLBW (AOR 1.14 per µg/L increase; 95% CI 1.04, 1.24) and PTB (AOR 1.10; 95% CI 1.06, 1.15) among singleton births in counties where <10% of the population used private wells. No significant association was observed between arsenic and SGA, or VPTB, but a suggestive association was observed between arsenic and term LBW.

CONCLUSIONS: Arsenic in drinking water was positively associated with VLBW and PTB in a population where nearly all (>99%) of the population was exposed under the current maximum contaminant level of 10µg/L. Current regulatory standards may not be protective against reproductive effects of prenatal exposure to arsenic.

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