It might not seem like all that common of a place for heavy metals to be hiding, but your drinking water could be harboring poisons that are making your children dumb. A new study published in the journal Environmental Health found that children exposed to arsenic in drinking water, even at very low levels, experienced a 5- to 6-point drop in IQ score compared to other children.
The first of its kind to be conducted in the U.S., the new study looked directly at drinking water contaminants and their correlation to intelligence. A research team led by Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York, evaluated 272 children in grades 3-5 from across the state of Maine. Each of the children had been exposed to arsenic through well water consumed at home.
The researchers chose the Augusta area of Maine, where most households use well water and high arsenic levels had previously been detected. Using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, also known as WISC-IV, the team evaluated each child’s IQ level, accounting for outside factors like maternal IQ, education, school district and family size, all of which might affect end IQ scores.
Based on this assessment, it was determined that, among children exposed to at least 5 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, a relatively small amount of the toxin, IQ scores dropped by as much as 6 points. However, average contaminant levels of arsenic were found to exceed 9.88 ppb, with almost one-third of the samples exceeding 10 ppb.
“Everyone was a little taken aback by that,” stated Professor Amy Schwartz from the University of New Hampshire to the Kennebec Journal about the findings. Schwartz helped coordinate the testing of the children for the study. “This is a great piece of public health research. People shouldn’t panic, but be informed.”
Water filtration necessary to avoid heavy metal exposure
Previous studies have identified other contaminants in water such as pharmaceutical residues and hormone-mimicking pesticides, both of which are also problematic at very low levels. But this new study is the first to take a look specifically at arsenic, which has an extensive history of being sprayed in the area of Maine where the study was conducted.
As it turns out, apple orchards, potato farms and blueberry fields throughout the region were heavily sprayed with arsenical pesticides and herbicides between 1920 and the late 1960s, the residues of which are still turning up all across the state in people’s water wells. As a result, many families are investing in whole-house water filtration systems to protect their families.
“I worry when we can’t replace the filter as quickly as we should,” stated Wendy Brennan, a resident of Belgrade who recently invested in an $800 reverse osmosis filtration system, to the Kennebec Journal. Despite the expense, which involves replacing the system’s $100 filters every six months, Brennan says the peace of mind that comes with knowing that her family is drinking clean water is worth every penny.
“This study should be yet another reminder that if you haven’t had your well tested yet, to have your well tested,” added Andy Smith, a toxicologist at the Maine Centers for Disease Control who told reporters that, even if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes new arsenic safety standards, it will be years before they come into effect.
Ethan A. Huff,
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