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Bayesian Network Models for Predicting Health Risks of Arsenic in Drinking Water

Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, PhD
Associate Professor, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
RTI University Scholar, RTI International, USA

Recorded at the 5th Annual BayesiaLab Conference in Paris on September 29, 2017.



Background: Population health risk models currently used to support drinking water quality regulations in the United States have limited ability to capture inter-individual variability or to represent uncertainty. Toward improving such models, we compared a Bayesian-network model against current methods for predicting pre-diabetes and diabetes risk from arsenic in drinking water. We also assessed the implications of using this model for decision-making about arsenic control.

Methods: Using data from a 1,050-member cohort in an arsenic-endemic region of Mexico, we fitted Bayesian-network and logistic regression models to predict pre-diabetes and diabetes risk from arsenic exposure via drinking water. Predictive performance was examined by training each model on 75% of the dataset and testing on the remaining 25%.

Results: The Bayesian-network model was slightly more accurate than the regression model in predicting pre-diabetes and diabetes (sensitivity 75% versus 73% for a specificity of 63%). In addition, the Bayesian-network model revealed a gender-mediated interacting effect of body-mass index and arsenic metabolism on risk that was not evident from the regression model. The Bayesian network estimated that reducing arsenic below the current Mexican regulatory limit of 25 µg/liter would prevent 18,000 diabetes cases among the 1.3 million residents of arsenic-endemic regions—an order of magnitude higher than the estimated 1,460 preventable cancer cases.

Conclusions: Bayesian networks provide a platform that could improve the accuracy of population health risk assessment models for supporting the development of environmental policies.

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Presenter Biography

MacDonald Gibson.jpgJackie MacDonald Gibson has a multi-disciplinary background in mathematics and engineering that she applies to risk assessment and policy problems.  For 2017-2018, she is serving as a University Scholar at the Research Triangle Institute.  Previously, she was Associate Director of the Water Science and Technology Board, U.S. National Research Council.  She also was Senior Engineer at the RAND Corp.  She holds Ph.D. degrees in Engineering and Public Policy and Civil and Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University; an M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; and a B.A. in mathematics from Bryn Mawr.