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Chronic low-level arsenic exposure reduces lung function in male population without skin lesions



The respiratory effects of chronic low-level arsenic exposure from groundwater have been investigated in West Bengal, India.


The participants (834 non-smoking adult males) were subdivided in two groups: an arsenic-exposed group (n = 446, mean age 35.3 years) drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater (11–50 μg/L) and a control group of 388 age-matched men drinking water containing <10 μg/L of arsenic. Arsenic in water samples was measured by atomic absorption spectroscopy. The prevalence of respiratory symptoms was documented by structured, validated questionnaire. Pulmonary function test (PFT) was assessed by portable spirometer.


Compared with control, the arsenic-exposed subjects had higher prevalence of upper and lower respiratory symptoms, dyspnea, asthma, eye irritation and headache. Besides, 20.6 % of arsenic-exposed subjects had lung function deficits (predominantly restrictive and combined types) compared with 13.6 % of control (p < 0.05). A positive association was observed between arsenic concentration in drinking water and the prevalence of respiratory symptoms, while a negative association existed between arsenic level and spirometric parameters.


The findings suggest that even low-level arsenic exposure has deleterious respiratory effects.

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The authors would like to acknowledge the funding agency, Central Pollution Control Board, Govt. of India, for providing the grant support for the project. The authors would also like to thank Prof. (Dr.) Jaydip Biswas, Director, Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute for providing the infrastructural facilities.

Conflict of interest

None declared.

Ethical standards

The experiments comply with the current laws of India where they were performed. The work was approved by Institutional Ethics Committee, Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dona Sinha.

Additional information

This article was submitted to the 2013 call for papers "Environment and Health Reviews".

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Das, D., Bindhani, B., Mukherjee, B. et al. Chronic low-level arsenic exposure reduces lung function in male population without skin lesions. Int J Public Health 59, 655–663 (2014).

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  • Arsenic
  • Groundwater
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Lung function