A new study reveals pregnant women who drink water with traces of arsenic may give birth to babies with lung damage and an increased risk of respiratory infections.
The study from the University of Western Australia (UWA) has uncovered links between arsenic in drinking water and higher risk of developing chronic lung disease.
"These findings are significant because whilst arsenic is well known for its cancer-causing properties, its impact on lung health is less known," Kathryn Ramsey, UWA environmental health researcher, was quoted as saying in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
"When we examined mice that had been exposed to the same levels of arsenic in drinking water as many humans, we were able to see just what sort of impact this chemical can have on lung development," said Ramsey, according to a university statement.
"What we found was abnormal lung development and structural damage to an extent that is likely to cause problems later in life. We also found that arsenic increased the amount of mucous produced by the lungs which may reduce the ability to clear respiratory pathogens."
A previous report from Chile has shown that exposure to high levels of arsenic via drinking water in early life increases by 40 times the likelihood of dying of a chronic lung disease as an adult.
"The contamination of drinking water with naturally occurring arsenic is a significant environmental health problem which affects millions of people around the world," he said.
"The next step in our research is to try and identify at what concentration arsenic causes detectable changes in lung growth so we can better inform public health policies around water quality," concluded Ramsay.