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Long-term consequences of arsenic poisoning during infancy due to contaminated milk powder

DOI: 10.1186/1476-069x-5-31

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Arsenic toxicity is a global health problem affecting many millions of people. The major source of human exposure is contamination of drinking water from natural geological sources, but anthropogenic emissions from mining, smelting, or agricultural sources (pesticides or fertilizers) also contribute to local exposures [1]. Although current risk assessment is based on the recognized carcinogenicity of arsenic [2,3], other adverse effects, such as neurotoxicity, may also be relevant. For instance, peripheral neuropathy has been amply demonstrated in adults [4-6] and is thought to occur only at fairly high exposure levels that would already be deemed unacceptable from the viewpoint of preventing arsenic-induced cancer. In past incidents, 15 fatalities occurred among 500 patients exposed to arsenic-contaminated wine in France in 1888; 70 of 6,000 patients from arsenic-contaminated beer in England in 1900–1901; and 15 of 28 patients due to arsenic-contaminated cider in the US in 1924 [7]. These events involved adults only.Developmental processes in the nervous system are vulnerable to disruption by such chemicals at doses that may not be toxic to mature systems [8-10], and consideration of developmental neurotoxicity would therefore seem to be appropriate. An extensive data base on developmental arsenic toxicity exists from an unfortunate poisoning incident in Japan in the mid-1950s. The so-called Morinaga dried milk poisoning has received only cursory coverage in the English-language scientific literature, but detailed accounts are available in Japanese. According to official records, more than one hundred infants died from arsenic poisoning [11], thus making the fatality rate of this food poisoning incident the most serious one ever to occur in Japan. In the absence of a detailed account in English, we therefore present an overview of the Morinaga dried milk poisoning based on reports published by Japanese researchers.In the early summer 1955, physicians in the western


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