Arsenic in the Alentejo? Yes, it’s affecting people living near former mining areas
Old machinery on the 'mining route of Aljustrel'

Arsenic in the Alentejo? Yes, it’s affecting people living near former mining areas

Study suggests arsenic levels linked to cognitive deficits in adults and old people

A study from the University of Aveiro published today reveals that high values of arsenic in the human body are associated with cognitive deficits in adults and the elderly.

“The greater the presence of arsenic (As) in the human body, the worse the cognitive performance,” said the study which analysed 76 individuals aged between 62 and 95, living in various parts of the country.

Another relevant finding has been that the inhabitants of the interior Alentejo, close to former mining areas, “exhibited higher concentrations of arsenic and poorer cognitive performance, when compared with individuals from the rest of the country”.

Participants underwent cognitive screening and a biological sample (hair) was taken to analyse the concentrations of various elements.

“After crossing biological data and neuropsychological data, it was found that higher concentrations of arsenic are associated with poorer cognitive performance – this metal being the second most relevant predictor of cognitive performance, preceded only by schooling,” explains the study.

Since participants were residents of different geographical areas, a comparison between groups was made to assess the possibility of there being significant differences in terms of cognitive performance and arsenic concentrations in the body.

“Effectively, the group from the interior Alentejo (GAI) exhibited higher As concentrations and poorer cognitive performance than the group from the ‘Central Litoral’ (GCL), even after controlling for the effects of age and education,” researcher Bianca Gerardo, from the University of Aveiro tells Lusa.

The interior Alentejo group “was made up of permanent residents from old mining areas associated with the Iberian Pyrite Belt, where heaps of material lie exposed, releasing arsenic and other elements into the soil, water and atmosphere”.

According to Bianca Gerardo, these elements can enter the body through through inhalation of dust, ingestion of water and/ or food, and absorption through the skin of soil particles and/ or dust.

The work, carried out as part of Bianca Gerardo’s PhD in Neuropsychology, was aimed at studying the effects of heavy metals and other potentially toxic elements on the cognitive performance of adults and elderly people.

Her research was developed within the project – “The environmental exposure to Potentially Toxic Elements as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia”, together with Professors Marina Cabral Pinto, Mário Simões and Sandra Freitas from the GeoBioTec research unit (Geobiosciences, Geoengineering and Geotechnologies) of Aveiro University, and CINEICC (the Centre of Research in Neuropsychology and Cognitive Behavioral Intervention) of the University of Coimbra, in collaboration with the Laboratory for Green Chemistry/ Network of Chemistry and Technology (LAVQ/REQUIMTE) of the University of Porto.

Source: LUSA