Arsenic exposure of rural populations from the Rift Valley of Ethiopia as monitored by keratin in toenails

R. Brittany Merola, Julia Kravchenko, Tewodros Rango, Avner Vengosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Arsenic (As) contamination of drinking water is a worldwide phenomenon whose effect among vulnerable and rural communities in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia in eastern Africa is not well studied. This study examines As exposure and bioaccumulation from drinking water by monitoring human keratin in the form of toenails from exposed populations. Groundwater samples from drinking water wells (n=34) were collected along with toenail samples (n=58) from local communities and were analyzed for trace metals including As by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Of the total number of wells tested, 53% had As level above the WHO maximum contamination level of 10 p.p.b. Arsenic in toenails was significantly correlated to corresponding drinking water (r=0.72; R 2 =0.52; P<0.001). This correlation improves for drinking water with As concentrations above 2 p.p.b. (r=0.74; R 2 =0.54; P<0.001). Male minors (<18 years old) were found to have greater nail-As concentrations compared with adults consuming equal amounts of As (P<0.05). Estimated As dose specifically from drinking water sources was also associated with nail concentrations (P<0.01). We suggest that As measurement in nails could be a reliable method for detecting As exposure in residents living in rural areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-126
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Rift Valley
  • arsenic
  • bioaccumulation
  • keratin
  • nails
  • water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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