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Identifying US populations for the study of health effects related to drinking water arsenic


The US Environmental Protection Agency recently set a new maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in drinking water of 10 μg/l. In this paper, we review the completeness and accuracy of drinking water arsenic occurrence data in the United States and identify populations exposed to elevated arsenic concentrations that would be suitable for epidemiological studies of arsenic health effects. Using existing data from the Environmental Protection Agency Arsenic Occurrence and Exposure Database and additional data from state health and environment departments and water utilities, we identified 33 counties in 11 states with an estimated mean drinking water arsenic concentration of 10 μg/l or greater. A total of 11 of these ‘confirmed’ counties had an estimated mean arsenic concentration of 20 μg/l or more and two had an estimated mean arsenic concentration 50 μg/l or more. Based on census data, between 1950 and 1999 there were approximately 51.1 million person-years of exposure to drinking water arsenic at levels of 10 μg/l or more, 8.2 million at levels of 20 μg/l or more arsenic and 0.9 million at levels of 50 μg/l or more. Mortality and incidence of diseases known to be associated with arsenic exposure can and should be examined in these counties as part of a comprehensive assessment of arsenic health effects in US populations.

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The authors are grateful to Judith Hurley for review and revision of the manuscript. This study was funded by the American Water Works Association Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to Floyd J Frost.

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Frost, F., Muller, T., Petersen, H. et al. Identifying US populations for the study of health effects related to drinking water arsenic. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 13, 231–239 (2003).

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  • arsenic
  • exposure assessment
  • drinking water
  • groundwater

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