Project 2: Exposure, Growth, and Neurodevelopment

"Exposure to low doses of arsenic through water and food is common, yet the sources and consequences of such exposure are poorly understood. This study will help to identify foods typically consumed during the first five years of life that contain arsenic and to assess whether there are important growth and neurodevelopmental consequences of arsenic exposure for young children. Results of this research could help inform decisions about food safety policies and the establishment of dietary guidelines to reduce arsenic-related health risks to children."

Emerging evidence suggests that exposure to high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can adversely impact prenatal growth and childhood cognitive development. Much less is known about the child health effects of arsenic at the lower doses that are commonly consumed through drinking water in the U.S. Moreover, recent research suggests that diet may be the most significant source of arsenic exposure for the general U.S. population– though relatively little is known about dietary sources of arsenic. Understanding arsenic exposure through both diet and water is important to assessing exposure risk, especially in young children who are rapidly developing and may be the most vulnerable to contaminants.

The goal of this study is to quantify children’s exposure to arsenic via both drinking water and food, and to evaluate whether this exposure affects physical growth and neurological development. Our study focuses on the New Hampshire Birth Cohort (NHBC), which recruits from a population where about 15% of households have private wells with arsenic concentrations above the current maximum contaminant level of 10 µg/L. We will characterize pathways of early life arsenic exposure by assessing how biomarkers of exposure (e.g., urine and toenail arsenic levels during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood) are related to dietary assessments during infancy and childhood. We will then evaluate how these arsenic exposure biomarkers are related to growth and adiposity during the first five years of life, as well as behavioral skills, cognitive ability and motor proficiency between the ages of 3 and 5 years.

Thus, this innovative work will combine detailed longitudinal assessment of early life arsenic exposure and subsequent physical and neurological development to better understand the exposure sources and children’s health impacts of this common contaminant in a U.S. population.