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Environmental Health (London)


Geisel School of Medicine


Background: Early life exposure to arsenic is associated with decreased birth weight in highly exposed populations but little is known about effects of low-level arsenic exposure on growth in utero.

Methods: Using a sample of 272 pregnancies from New Hampshire we obtained biometric measurements directly from fetal ultrasound reports commonly found in electronic medical records. We used information extraction methods to develop and validate an automated approach for mining biometric measurements from the text of clinical reports. As a preliminary analysis, we examined associations between in utero low-level arsenic exposure (as measured by maternal urinary arsenic concentration) and fetal growth measures (converted to Z-scores based on reference populations for estimated fetal weight, head, and other body measures) at approximately 18 weeks of gestation.

Results: In a preliminary cross-sectional analysis of 223 out of 272 pregnancies, maternal urinary arsenic concentration (excluding arsenobetaine) was associated with a reduction in head circumference Z-score (Spearman correlation coefficient, rs = -0.08, p-value = 0.21) and a stronger association was observed among female fetuses at approximately 18 weeks of gestation (rs = - 0.21, p-value < 0.05). Although, associations were attenuated in adjusted analyses — among female fetuses a 1 μg/L increase in maternal urinary arsenic concentration was associated with a decrease of 0.047 (95% CI: -0.115, 0.021) in head circumference and 0.072 (95% CI: −0.151, 0.007) decrease in biparietal head diameter Z-score.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that useful data can be extracted directly from electronic medical records for epidemiologic research. We also found evidence that exposure to low-level arsenic may be associated with reduced head circumference in a sex dependent manner that warrants further investigation.