Arsenic-laden drinking water drives antibiotic resistance, study says

Exposure to arsenic through drinking water has long been recognized as a serious risk to human health. This month, two studies underscore the extent of the ongoing threat, presenting fresh evidence regarding how arsenic exposure contributes to antibiotic resistance, and how the overall health risks are disproportionately borne by Hispanic and American Indian communities.

“Reducing exposure to arsenic is important given the numerous health effects,” said Ana Navas-Acien, a professor of environmental health at Columbia University and an author on a new study identifying racial and ethnic inequalities associated with arsenic pollution.

Arsenic is naturally occurring in the earth but is highly toxic in its inorganic form. It has been used for decades for a range of industrial purposes. Long-term exposure to the chemical is associated with some cancers as well as developmental problems, an increased risk of diabetes, pulmonary disease and other diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

An estimated 140 million people in at least 70 countries have been drinking water containing arsenic at levels above the WHO provisional guidelines, the organization states.