Cancer mortality in the central region of Argentina is among the highest in the country. Two possible environmental factors could explain this situation: agricultural activity and drinking water quality. The objective of the study is to evaluate the interaction between these variables.
This is a retrospective ecological study. Total cropland over 10-year periods as well as the percentage of the population exposed to high levels of arsenic and nitrates in drinking water were analyzed and compared to total mortality rates (TMR) and organ-specific mortality rates (SMR); the Spearman's rank correlation coefficient was then calculated.
Positive and significant correlations were found between the first two 10-year periods of total cropland and the first 10-year period of TMR, as well as correlations with lung, pancreatic, and colon cancers in men and colon cancer in women. Elevated arsenic levels are associated with TMR in both sexes across all 10-year periods but are specifically associated with lung cancer in men. No significant correlation was found with nitrates.
The association between total cropland and TMR/SMR is stronger with proximity over time, with greater impact from the oldest crops. The association between TMR and consumption of water containing arsenic, as well as the association with lung SMR in men and colon SMR in women, show that exposure over time is essential to understanding regional epidemiological conditions. The synergy between these variables should be explored.