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Dartmouth College

Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth

Dartmouth College
Margaret R. Karagas, Ph.D. 

Project Description:

The Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth studies the effects of arsenic exposure on children's health. Arsenic naturally occurs in well water in parts of the United States and is harmful to our health. It can be present in rocks and soil and exposure can occur through contaminated drinking water, food, or air. Exposure to arsenic in large or small amounts over time can cause skin lesions, cancer, and other health problems. Despite the significant potential public health impact of arsenic, the effect of arsenic exposure on fetal development and maternal and child health is not yet known.


The center informs the public about ways to minimize risks from arsenic exposure and collaborates with local communities to reduce the risk of environmental threats to children's health.

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Project 1: Arsenic and maternal and infant immune function 

Project leader: Margaret R. Karagas, Ph.D.


This research is part of an ongoing study of 1,000 women and infants in New Hampshire who get their drinking water from private wells, a potential source of arsenic exposure in this region. This work will help reveal whether arsenic exposure via drinking water and food in the first year of life increases risk of infection during pregnancy or during the infant's first year of life. The project will also assess how individual variation in arsenic metabolism and lifestyle factors such as maternal smoking alters the effects of arsenic exposure in children.

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Project 2: Food borne exposure to arsenic during the first year of life 

Project leader: Kathryn L. Cottingham, Ph.D.


Building on a study of women and children enrolled as part of Dartmouth’s Superfund Program, this project explores dietary sources of arsenic exposure in infancy through the first year of life. The goal is to identify the contribution of diet to both arsenic exposure and the ability to reduce arsenic toxicity through dietary changes such as folate, iron, and vitamin B. The project focuses on exposure through breast milk and infant formula and is also collecting data on the period when infants transition to solid foods, such as rice cereals, which may contain low levels of arsenic.  

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Project 3: An integrated geospatial and epidemiological study of associations between birth defects and arsenic exposure in New England 

Project leader: Xun Shi, Ph.D.


Previous studies have suggested a link between arsenic exposure during pregnancy and birth defects, the onset of asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. This project is integrating information on where people live and their health to characterize the spatial distribution of birth defects in New England in relation to environmental exposure to arsenic. This data will be used to model the process by which arsenic may disrupt lung development.

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Project 4: Determining how arsenic modulates hedgehog signaling during development 

Project leader: David J. Robbins


This project aims to determine the mechanism by which arsenic may increase the risk for birth defects by interfering with hedgehog signaling, a process critical to human development in the womb. Investigators seek to develop the reagents necessary to analyze cell samples from mothers and infants for markers of hedgehog signaling activity. In future work, such reagents could be used to link arsenic exposure to birth defects.

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