Health effects of exposure to natural arsenic in groundwater and coal in China: An overview of occurrence

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Environmental Health Perspectives
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Between 2001 and 2005, 21,155 of 445,638 wells in 20,517 villages in 292 counties in 16 provinces from China, or 5% of wells, were found to contain > 50 mu g/L arsenic (As) by field testing with the Merck As kit. We achieved quality assurance of analysis of at least 10% of the wells containing > 50 mu g/L As using hydride generation atomic fluorescence spectrometry and silver dithiodicarbomate spectrometry. Our best estimate of the population exposed to > 50 mu g/L As in drinking water was 582,769. This is probably an underestimate for China because of the limited area surveyed. In a survey of 135,492 individuals in eight provinces, we used the National Diagnosis Standard for Endemic Arsenicosis and identified 10,096 cases of arsenicosis with various degrees of skin lesions. The arsenicosis occurrence rate of 7.5% is likely an overestimate, because the survey focused more on known and suspected endemic areas of arsenicosis. The occurrence of arsenicosis correlates positively with the percentage of wells containing > 50 mu g/L As, or at a ratio of I to 5%. Based on both the amount of As in well water and the rate of occurrence of arsenicosis, Shanxi province, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and Jilin province are the top three areas in China as of 2005 for exposure to endemic As from drinking water. Our survey also identified exposure to high levels of As from wells in several provinces and from the indoor burning of coal containing high levels of As in Shaanxi province. These areas, however, have not had any reports of previous arsenicosis endemics. In the endemic areas, the average rate of occurrence of arsenicosis at advanced stages was 1.2%, possibly because of a long exposure time of > 20 years; the rate of occurrence increased to 2.7% when we included a high dose of As exposure from the indoor burning of coal. Mitigation to reduce As exposure remains a challenge in rural China.


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Doi 10.1289/Ehp.9268