Elevated levels of iron in groundwater in Prey Veng province in Cambodia: a possible factor contributing to high iron stores in women

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Iron is a natural element found in food, water and soil and is essential for human health. Our aim was to determine the levels of iron and 25 other metals and trace elements in groundwater from 22 households in Prey Veng, Cambodia. Water analyses were conducted using inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry and optical emission spectrometry. Compared to the 2011 World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water quality, aluminum, iron and manganese exceeded maximum levels (in 4.5, 72.7 and 40.9% of samples, respectively). Compared to the 2004 Cambodian drinking water quality standards, iron and manganese exceeded maximum levels (in 59.1 and 36.4% of samples, respectively). We found no evidence of arsenic contamination. Guidelines for iron were established primarily for esthetic reasons (e.g. taste), whereas other metals and elements have adverse effects associated with toxicity. Iron in groundwater ranged from 134 to 5,200 μg/L (mean ∼1,422 μg/L). Based on a daily consumption of 3 L groundwater, this equates to ∼0.4–15.6 mg iron (mean ∼4.3 mg/day), which may be contributing to high iron stores and the low prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in Prey Veng women. Elevated levels of manganese in groundwater are a concern and warrant further investigation.

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