Background: Very little evidence exists concerning the possible impairment of children's intellectual function in relation to arsenic exposure in utero and during childhood.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study among 351 children age 5 to 15 years who were selected from a source population of 7683 people in West Bengal, India, in 2001-2003. Intellectual function was assessed with 6 subtests from the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children as well as with the Total Sentence Recall test, the Colored Progressive Matrices test, and a pegboard test. Arsenic in urine and lifetime water sources (including during the pregnancy period) were assessed using measurements of samples from 409 wells. The test scores were analyzed with linear regression analyses based on the method of generalized estimating equations incorporating relevant covariates.
Results: Stratifying urinary arsenic concentrations into tertiles, we found associations between arsenic and reductions in the adjusted scores of the vocabulary test (0, -0.14, -0.28; P for trend = 0.02), the object assembly test (0, -0.16, -0.24; P for trend = 0.03), and the picture completion test (0, -0.15, -0.26; P for trend = 0.02). These findings correspond to relative declines of 12% (95% confidence interval =0.4% to 24%) in the vocabulary test, 21% (-0.8% to 42%) in the object assembly test, and of 13% (0.3% to 24%) in the picture completion test in the upper urinary arsenic tertile. However, we did not find evidence of an association between test results and arsenic water concentrations during pregnancy or childhood.
Conclusions: Current arsenic concentrations in urine, which reflect all sources of recent exposure, including water and food, were associated with small decrements in intellectual testing in school-aged children in West Bengal. We did not see associations between long-term water arsenic concentrations and intellectual function.