We conducted a pilot study to assess the utility of toenail arsenic concentrations as an indicator of ingestion of arsenic-containing water. We enrolled 21 individuals whose household drinking water supply was provided by a private well, including 10 individuals who lived in areas of New Hampshire where elevated water levels of arsenic had been reported previously. Participants were interviewed regarding use of their private (unregulated) wells for drinking and cooking, and each provided a sample of water and toenail clippings. All specimens were analyzed using instrumental neutron activation analysis with a sensitivity of approximately 0.001 parts per million (ppm). Trace concentrations of arsenic were detected in 15 of the 21 well water samples and in all toenail clipping samples. Among the 10 individuals who lived in areas with reportedly high arsenic levels in the water supply, the geometric mean toenail concentration was 0.39 ppm (SE, 0.12 ppm); among the other 11 persons, the geometric mean was 0.14 ppm (SE, 0.02 ppm; P = 0.005 for the difference between the two means). The overall Spearman correlation between toenail and well water arsenic was 0.67 (P = 0.009), and among those with detectable well water levels of arsenic, the Spearman correlation was 0.83 (P = 0.0001). Based on the regression analysis of those who had detectable water levels of arsenic, a 10-fold increase in well water concentrations of arsenic was reflected by about a 2-fold increase in toenail concentrations. These results indicate that concentrations of arsenic in toenails reflect use of arsenic-containing drinking water.

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