BREAD Working Paper No. 546, May 2018

Identifying the Costs of a Public Health Success: Arsenic Well Water Contamination and Productivity in Bangladesh

Mark Rosenzweig, Mark Pitt, Nazmul Hassan


We exploit recent molecular genetics evidence on the genetic basis of arsenic excretion and unique information on family links among respondents living in different environments from a large panel survey within a theoretical framework incorporating optimizing behavior to uncover the hidden costs of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh. We provide for the first time estimates of the effects of the ingestion and retention of inorganic arsenic on direct measures of cognitive and physical capabilities as well as on the schooling attainment, occupational structure, entrepreneurship and incomes of the rural Bangladesh population. We also provide new estimates of the effects of the consumption of foods grown and cooked in arsenic-contaminated water on individual arsenic concentrations. The estimates are based on arsenic biomarkers obtained from a sample of members of rural households in Bangladesh who are participants in a long-term panel survey following respondents and their coresident household members over a period of 26 years.

Keywords: arsenic, genomics, Bangladesh, health, productivity,

JEL classification codes: O15,Q53,Q56,I15,

Download paper in PDF format