Chronic arsenic exposure has been associated with a range of neurologic, vascular, dermatologic, and carcinogenic effects. However, limited research has been directed at the association of arsenic exposure and human reproductive health outcomes. The principal aim of this study was to investigate the trends in infant mortality between two geographic locations in Chile: Antofagasta, which has a well-documented history of arsenic exposure from naturally contaminated water, and Valparaíso, a comparable low-exposure city. The arsenic concentration in Antofagasta's public drinking water supply rose substantially in 1958 with the introduction of a new water source, and remained elevated until 1970. We used a retrospective study design to examine time and location patterns in infant mortality between 1950 and 1996, using univariate statistics, graphical techniques, and Poisson regression analysis. Results of the study document the general declines in late fetal and infant mortality over the study period in both locations. The data also indicate an elevation of the late fetal, neonatal, and postneonatal mortality rates for Antofagasta, relative to Valparaíso, for specific time periods, which generally coincide with the period of highest arsenic concentration in the drinking water of Antofagasta. Poisson regression analysis yielded an elevated and significant association between arsenic exposure and late fetal mortality [rate ratio (RR) = 1.7; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.5-1.9], neonatal mortality (RR = 1.53; CI, 1.4-1.7), and postneonatal mortality (RR = 1.26; CI, 1.2-1.3) after adjustment for location and calendar time. The findings from this investigation may support a role for arsenic exposure in increasing the risk of late fetal and infant mortality.
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