24 Feb Formula Fed Babies May Have More Arsenic Exposure From Private Well Water
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Professor Cottingham: Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that occurs in high concentrations in groundwater in certain parts of the world, including here in New Hampshire. Exposure to high concentrations of arsenic in water has a number of potential health consequences, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, adverse birth outcomes, and altered immune systems. Effects of lower-dose exposures are still under investigation, but emerging evidence suggests similar effects as higher doses.
In the U.S., public drinking water sources are regulated to have arsenic below a maximum contaminant level of 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water. However, private wells are not regulated, and there is no requirement to test water in private wells to ensure that the water is safe to drink.
The New Hampshire Birth Cohort, led by Dr. Margaret Karagas, is an ongoing longitudinal study of pregnant women who drink water from private wells. This study quantified arsenic exposure in 72 infants born to women in the cohort, using urine samples and exposure modeling.
Our results show that in general, exposure to arsenic during early infancy is quite low, regardless of how the infants were fed (breast milk vs. formula).
However, a few formula-fed infants were highly exposed to arsenic, likely due to high concentrations of arsenic in the drinking water used to mix their powdered formula.
Arsenic concentrations in breast milk – and in the urine of infants fed only with breast milk – were very low.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Professor Cottingham: Clinicians can help by asking patients whether they use private or public drinking water, and if private, encourage them to have their drinking water tested. State health departments can provide guidance on how to test and any other elements to test for (for example, nitrates in agricultural areas).
Water testing will be especially important for families with new babies who need to use formula – making sure that the water used to mix powdered formula is low in arsenic is a key way to reduce exposure.
And, as noted in our paper, breastfeeding is another way to reduce exposure for families that are able to do it.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Professor Cottingham: Additional research is particularly needed in two areas:
- How exposures change through infancy as infants transition from a liquid diet to solids.
- The health effects of low-dose exposures, including those from food.
Our team is currently tackling both of those areas.
Margaret Karaga et al. Estimated Exposure to Arsenic in Breastfed and Formula-Fed Infants in a United States Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, February 2015 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1408789
MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Professor Kathy Cottingham PhD (2015). Formula Fed Babies May Have More Arsenic Exposure From Private Well Water