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A cross-sectional study of well water arsenic and child IQ in Maine schoolchildren

Gail A Wasserman128*, Xinhua Liu3, Nancy J LoIacono3, Jennie Kline23, Pam Factor-Litvak3, Alexander van Geen4, Jacob L Mey45, Diane Levy3, Richard Abramson6, Amy Schwartz7 and Joseph H Graziano3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University New York, NY, USA

2 New York State Psychiatric Institute New York, NY, USA

3 Departments of Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health New York, NY, USA

4 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University Palisades, NY, USA

5 City University of New York, Kingsborough CC Brooklyn, NY, USA

6 Formerly with Readfield, ME Public Schools Readfield, USA

7 University of New Hampshire, NH Institute for Health Policy & Practice Durham, NH, USA

8 Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYSPI, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032, USA

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Environmental Health 2014, 13:23  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-23

Published: 1 April 2014



In recent studies in Bangladesh and elsewhere, exposure to arsenic (As) via drinking water is negatively associated with performance-related aspects of child intelligence (e.g., Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory) after adjustment for social factors. Because findings are not easily generalizable to the US, we examine this relation in a US population.


In 272 children in grades 3–5 from three Maine school districts, we examine associations between drinking water As (WAs) and intelligence (WISC-IV).


On average, children had resided in their current home for 7.3 years (approximately 75% of their lives). In unadjusted analyses, household well WAs is associated with decreased scores on most WISC-IV Indices. With adjustment for maternal IQ and education, HOME environment, school district and number of siblings, WAs remains significantly negatively associated with Full Scale IQ and Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory and Verbal Comprehension scores. Compared to those with WAs < 5 μg/L, exposure to WAs ≥ 5 μg/L was associated with reductions of approximately 5–6 points in both Full Scale IQ (p < 0.01) and most Index scores (Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory, Verbal Comprehension, all p’s < 0.05). Both maternal IQ and education were associated with lower levels of WAs, possibly reflecting behaviors (e.g., water filters, residential choice) limiting exposure. Both WAs and maternal measures were associated with school district.


The magnitude of the association between WAs and child IQ raises the possibility that levels of WAs ≥ 5 μg/L, levels that are not uncommon in the United States, pose a threat to child development.

Arsenic; Child intelligence; Well water; WISC-IV; Working Memory