Even limited Arsenic exposure can mar cognitive ability

Context: As per a latest study, even low levels of Arsenic consumption may impact cognitive function in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Those exposed to Arsenic had reduced grey matter (brain tissue that is vital to cognitive functions) and weaker connections within key regions of the brain that enable concentration, switching between tasks, and temporary storage of information.

Arsenic contamination of water:

  • Arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land. Highly toxic in its inorganic form, it is introduced into soil and groundwater during weathering of rocks and minerals followed by subsequent leaching and runoff
  • People are also exposed to elevated levels of inorganic Arsenic through:
    • Drinking or using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops
    • Industrial processes (Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent, and in the processing of glass, pigments, textiles, paper, metal adhesives, wood preservatives and ammunition)
    • Smoking tobacco (tobacco plants can take up Arsenic naturally present in the soil).
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  • Long-term exposure can lead to mortality due to chronic Arsenic poisoning, multiple cancers (skin lesions and skin cancer), lung disease, heart attacks, kidney failure and diseases of the skin (colour changes, and hard patches on palms and soles). 
  • Negative impacts of Arsenic exposure on cognitive development, intelligence and memory.
  • Adverse pregnancy outcomes, infant mortality and impacts on child health.
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Management of Arsenic contamination:

  • A common strategy employed is to encourage piped water access rather than groundwater extraction, adopting rainwater harvesting/ watershed management practices and installing Arsenic removal plants. 

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