A Trace of Arsenic (Discover)

In a story about arsenic and whether any level of the naturally occurring element might be safe to ingest, Discover magazine speaks with a number of Dartmouth scientists who’ve done research on arsenic in drinking water and in food products.

The scientists include Research Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Brian Jackson, who led a study that found trace levels of the carcinogen in baby food that had been sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, and Margaret Karagas, an epidemiologist and professor of community and family medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine and the senior author of a study that discovered that babies whose mothers drank well water from the arsenic-rich bedrock of New Hampshire tended to have low birth weights and be more than usually susceptible to childhood infections.

Joshua Hamilton, a molecular toxicologist affiliated with the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, tells the magazine that chronic exposure to trace arsenic inflicts damage on the cellular level, making the body more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses and diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Although trace arsenic will not kill on its own, Hamilton tells Discover, it “seems to make everything worse.”

Read the full story, published in the October 2013 issue of Discover.