The presence of arsenic in drinking water may interfere with intellectual development in children, a new study by Columbia University and the University of New Hampshire has warned. Researchers spent five years testing and monitoring schoolchildren in Maine who were known to have been exposed to well water contaminated with arsenic. Results showed that arsenic could be linked to lower IQ in children, even if it was detected at levels as low as five parts per billion.
According to a state health official, about one in five private wells in Maine could have at least five parts per billion of arsenic in water. The effect of the chemical exposure could be compared to that of lead in the blood stream, said Joseph Graziano, professor at Columbia University. However, the research does not in fact conclude there is a cause-effect relation between the two and more research is needed to determine the mechanism in which arsenic exposure affects IQ test results, researchers said.
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Children exposed to arsenic showed lower results in various sections of the tests, including Full Scale, Working Memory, Perceptual Reasoning and Verbal Comprehension scores, with their results averaging five to six points lower. Professor Amy Schwartz of the University of New Hampshire, test coordinator, commented that while the results point to a correlation between exposure to arsenic and lower intelligence, people should think of the research as informative, rather than as a cause for panic.