Nigra AE, Sanchez TR, Nachman KE, Harvey D, Chillrud SN, Graziano JH, Navas-Acien A. The effect of the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level on arsenic exposure in the USA from 2003 to 2014: an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Lancet Public Health. 2017 Nov;2(11):e513-e521. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30195-0.
BACKGROUND: The current US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in public water systems (10 µg/L) took effect in 2006. Arsenic is not federally regulated in private wells. The impact of the 2006 MCL on arsenic exposure in the US, as confirmed through biomarkers, is presently unknown. We evaluated national trends in water arsenic exposure in the US, hypothesizing that urinary arsenic levels would decrease over time among participants using public water systems but not among those using well water. We further estimated the expected number of avoided lung, bladder, and skin cancer cases.
METHODS: We evaluated 14,127 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2014 with urinary dimethylarsinate (DMA) and total arsenic available. To isolate water exposure, we expanded a residual-based method to remove tobacco and dietary contributions of arsenic. We applied EPA risk assessment approaches to estimate the expected annual number of avoided cancer cases comparing arsenic exposure in 2013-2014 vs. 2003-2004.
FINDINGS: Among public water users, fully adjusted geometric means (GMs) of DMA decreased from 3.01 µg/L in 2003-2004 to 2.49 µg/L in 2013-2014 (17% reduction; 95% confidence interval 10%, 24%; p-trend<0.01); no change was observed among well water users (p-trend= 0.35). Assuming these estimated exposure reductions will remain similar across a lifetime, we estimate a reduction of 200 to 900 lung and bladder cancer cases per year depending on the approach used.
INTERPRETATION: The decline in urinary arsenic among public water but not private well users in NHANES 2003-2014 indicates that the implementation of the current MCL has reduced arsenic exposure in the US population. Our study supports prior work showing that well water users are inadequately protected against drinking water arsenic, and confirms the critical role of federal drinking water regulations in reducing toxic exposures and protecting human health.