June 24, 2010

Health Risks in a Bangladeshi Population due to Arsenic Exposure

Researchers of Columbia University conducted a population-based prevalence survey in Araihazar, Bangladesh, to describe the distribution of arsenic exposure in a rural Bangladeshi population and to assess the population’s awareness to this problem as well as to possible remediation options. Water samples from 5,967 contiguous tube wells in a defined geographic area were tested using laboratory-based methods.
Additionally, for each well, the owner/caretaker (or a close relative) was interviewed regarding his or her awareness of the health consequences of as exposure. Arsenic exposure data and demographic characteristics for the 65,876 users of these wells were also collected from the 5,967 respondents.

Among the 65,876 residents, more than half (54%) regularly consumed well water with an As concentration = 50 µg/L—above the acceptable government standard in Bangladesh.Respondents were 15–92 years of age, with an average age of 42 years, and 43% were male.
Presence of awareness was significantly related to male sex, nonlabor head of household occupation, better housing, and having had the well tested for As concentration. Most respondents (92%) expressed a willingness to take steps to reduce their exposure, with switching to a safe well the most favored option (46.2%). Willingness to reduce exposure was positively related to awareness of the health risks of As. However, the association between awareness and switching to a safe well [odds ratio (OR) = 1.25; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.01–1.54] was no stronger than the associations between awareness and using surface water (with or without treatments) (OR = 1.54; 95% CI, 1.22–1.95) or using an existing well after treatment or increasing the depth (OR = 1.34; 95% CI,1.08–1.67).
These findings suggest that health education programs may need to target individuals with lower socioeconomic status and that well switching should be encouraged with more appropriate health education. Increasing knowledge of the health consequences of as may be an important element in facilitating remediation.

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