Arsenic Exposure During Pregnancy

Photo by Water Institute Competition Entry

Photo by Water Institute Competition Entry

Project Team  |  Funding  |  Collaborators  |  In The News

GGG_arsenic exposure_flagsUnderstanding the long-term effects of arsenic exposure during pregnancy

Arsenic exposure can lead to preterm birth, low birth weight and long-term health effects such as cancer.


Arsenic is a naturally occurring water contaminant and a potent human carcinogen. Chronic arsenic exposure has been linked to cancers of the skin, bladder, lungs and possibly the liver, as well as to heart disease and neurological disorders. Approximately 100 million people worldwide, more than 14 million in the U.S., are exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in drinking water. Many of those exposed are pregnant women.

Gillings researchers are studying the effects of arsenic exposure on newborns in Gomez Palacio, Mexico, an area with high levels of arsenic in drinking water. These studies are also relevant to central North Carolina, where high arsenic levels have been measured in many private wells. The project will enable researchers to understand how early life exposure to arsenic affects the body’s biology and compromises long-term health. Read More

Numerous studies from populations around the globe, including the U.S., Taiwan, India and Bangladesh, have shown a relationship between prenatal exposure to arsenic and poorer newborn health outcomes, such as premature birth and low birth weight.

Gillings researchers are going deeper by looking at changes at the molecular level in humans exposed to arsenic during the prenatal period. Led by Dr. Rebecca Fry, whose lab studies the human health effects of exposure to various toxic metals, the research in Mexico will help to identify gene and epigenetic biomarkers of arsenic exposure in newborns. The identified genes can help to unravel the molecular basis for arsenic-induced disease and explain why some people are more susceptible than others. This will help policymakers and environmental health agencies to identify and more effectively protect the most vulnerable groups from excess exposure to arsenic.

Project Team


Sponsored by: NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Total funding: $1,943,223


In The News

Fry maps arsenic levels across NC

Solving the Mystery of Arsenic’s Impact on Human Health

Fry appointed to National Research Council committee on arsenic