Another Ecologic Study on Arsenic and Bladder Cancer of Limited Utility

Ecologic studies such as this are not very informative because of limited exposure assessments. But they can certainly generate alarm. Even so, small associations such as this are questionable regardless of precise mathematical computations. Note the absence of confidence intervals on the estimates which sends a strong message to ignore the study altogether.

Saint-Jacques N, Brown P, Nauta L, Boxall J, Parker L, Dummer TJB. Estimating the risk of bladder and kidney cancer from exposure to low-levels of arsenic in drinking water, Nova Scotia, Canada. Environment international. 2017 Oct 28. pii: S0160-4120(17)31385-5. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.10.014.

Arsenic in drinking water impacts health. Highest levels of arsenic have been historically observed in Taiwan and Bangladesh but the contaminant has been affecting the health of people globally. Strong associations have been confirmed between exposure to high-levels of arsenic in drinking water and a wide range of diseases, including cancer. However, at lower levels of exposure, especially near the current World Health Organization regulatory limit (10μg/L), this association is inconsistent as the effects are mostly extrapolated from high exposure studies. This ecological study used Bayesian inference to model the relative risk of bladder and kidney cancer at these lower concentrations-0-2μg/L; 2-5μg/L and; ≥5μg/L of arsenic-in 864 bladder and 525 kidney cancers diagnosed in the study area, Nova Scotia, Canada between 1998 and 2010. The model included proxy measures of lifestyle (e.g. smoking) and accounted for spatial dependencies. Overall, bladder cancer risk was 16% (2-5μg/L) and 18% (≥5μg/L) greater than that of the referent group (<2μg/L), with posterior probabilities of 88% and 93% for these risks being above 1. Effect sizes for kidney cancer were 5% (2-5μg/L) and 14% (≥5μg/L) above that of the referent group (<2μg/L), with probabilities of 61% and 84%. High-risk areas were common in southwestern areas, where higher arsenic-levels are associated with the local geology. The study suggests an increased bladder cancer, and potentially kidney cancer, risk from exposure to drinking water arsenic-levels within the current the World Health Organization maximum acceptable concentration.

Comments are closed.