Blackville arsenic report released (09/06/17)

NB 857

June 17, 2009

BLACKVILLE (CNB) - An investigation by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) concludes that no health threat is posed by arsenic in Blackville. Health Minister Michael Murphy released the report, Investigation of Elevated Blood Arsenic Blackville New Brunswick, in Fredericton today.

The Department of Health asked PHAC epidemiologists to assist in an investigation after four persons in Blackville were discovered to have elevated arsenic levels in their blood.

In collaboration with the department, the PHAC epidemiologists conducted a thorough investigation, which involved hazard assessment, case finding, exposure assessment and environmental investigation. The PHAC epidemiologists submitted their report to the Department of Health.

"In response to concerns of the community, the Department of Health took action to investigate any possible public health risk," said Murphy. "The department takes public health concerns such as these seriously, and it is committed to working with communities to address and resolve them."

Medical reviews revealed that none of the four persons initially under investigation met the definition of probable or confirmed cases of arsenic toxicity.

None of the 65 community members whose laboratory tests were reviewed showed arsenic toxicity.

All persons submitting urine specimens had inorganic arsenic levels within normal limits. With the possible exception of one individual, whose diagnostic investigation remains in progress, no symptoms of possible arsenic toxicity were found among any community members who underwent testing, and whose results were reviewed by the investigative team.

The investigation found no evidence of toxic arsenic exposure from any source. All arsenic well water samples taken in Blackville during the investigation were below the Guideline for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. No environmental or industrial sources of arsenic were found within the village of Blackville, and the area geology is not associated with arsenic-containing rocks.

It is not uncommon for people to have some arsenic in their bodies because it is a naturally occurring chemical, said District Medical Officer of Health Denis Allard. However, he said, it is rare to find someone with high levels of the toxic form outside of a specific occupational environment where workers have frequent exposure.

"Arsenic can be found at very low levels in many foods, including meat and poultry, milk and dairy products, bakery goods and cereals, vegetables, and fruits and fruit juices," said Allard. "It is also found in cigarettes. Higher levels of arsenic are generally found in fish and shellfish, but in the organic form, which is not of concern to human health."

The report made some recommendations, including the possible participation of public health practitioners in professional development opportunities featuring environmental health investigation and risk communication; engaging a person trained in risk communication on some teams conducting environmental investigations; and pairing the reporting of specialized laboratory tests to facilitate case validation. The Department of Health will take these recommendations under consideration.

More information is available online.


MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.