Low-level arsenic exposure from drinking water is associated with prostate cancer in Iowa

Taehyun Roh, Charles F. Lynch, Peter Weyer, Kai Wang, Kevin M. Kelly, Gabriele Ludewig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Inorganic arsenic is a toxic naturally occurring element in soil and water in many regions of the US including the Midwest. Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men in Iowa, surpassed only by non-melanotic skin cancer. Epidemiology studies have evaluated arsenic exposure from drinking water and prostate cancer, but most have focused on high-level exposures outside the US. As drinking water from groundwater sources is a major source of arsenic exposure, we conducted an ecologic study to evaluate prostate cancer and arsenic in drinking water from public water sources and private wells in Iowa, where exposure levels are low, but duration of exposure can be long. Arsenic data from public water systems were obtained from the Iowa Safe Drinking Water Information System for the years 1994–2003 and for private wells from two Iowa Well Water Studies, the Iowa Community Private Well Study (ICPWS, 2002–2003) and Iowa Statewide Rural Well Water Survey Phase 2 (SWIRL2, 2006–2008) that provided data for 87 Iowa counties. Prostate cancer incidence data from 2009 to 2013 for Iowa were obtained from Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results’ SEER*Stat software. County averages of water arsenic levels varied from 1.08 to 18.6 ppb, with three counties above the current 10 ppb limit. Based on the tertiles of arsenic levels, counties were divided into three groups: low (1.08–2.06 ppb), medium (2.07–2.98 ppb), and high (2.99–18.6 ppb). Spatial Poisson regression modeling was conducted to estimate the risk ratios (RR) of prostate cancer by tertiles of arsenic level at a county level, adjusted for demographic and risk factors. The RR of prostate cancer were 1.23 (95% CI, 1.16–1.30) and 1.28 (95% CI, 1.21–1.35) in the medium and high groups, respectively, compared to the low group after adjusting for risk factors. The RR increased to 1.36 (95% CI, 1.28–1.45) in the high group when analyses were restricted to aggressive prostate cancers (Gleason score ≥ 7). This study shows a significant dose-dependent association between low-level arsenic exposure and prostate cancer, and if this result is replicated in future individual-level studies, may suggest that 10 ppb is not protective for human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-343
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Arsenic
  • Drinking water
  • Iowa
  • Private well water
  • Prostate cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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