How Much Arsenic is in Your Food

Naturally occurring geological arsenicdv1897007

“Arsenic,” sounds like a scary word and I’m guessing you’re thinking of the organic versions which are used as pesticides.  For the most these arsenics have not been found to be detrimental to human health. In their natural form, elements are found in rocks, soil, and ground and surface water. 
These are not the type we’re concerned with.

Food, consumer products contain inorganic arsenic

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is formed when arsenic is combined with elements other than carbon, as a carcinogen. These types of arsenic are typically formed during industrial processes and are cancer-causing. Products such as residential decks and porches, picnic tables and playground play sets to ward off insects and to protect wood from rotting and from microbial contamination, such as mildew, all contain this type of inorganic arsenic.

Experts say the most abundant source of inorganic arsenic is found in drinking water. It is also found in juices and other drinks that contain water as well as some foods, such as carrots and rice.  This is because waste runoff from factories causes inorganic arsenic to get into drinking-water and food-irrigation systems.

In late 2012 Consumer Reports released their original report on arsenic in rice, in which they found measurable levels in almost all of the 60 rice varieties and rice products. They recently did additional research and found the following:

Our most recent testing and analysis gave us some new information on the risk of arsenic exposure in infants and children through rice cereal and other rice products. We looked at data released by the Food and Drug Administration in 2013 on the inorganic arsenic content of 656 processed rice-containing products. We found that rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more inorganic arsenic—a carcinogen—than our 2012 data showed. According to the results of our new tests, one serving of either could put kids over the maximum amount of rice we recommend they should have in a week. Rice cakes supply close to a child’s weekly limit in one serving. Rice drinks can also be high in arsenic, and children younger than 5 shouldn’t drink them instead of milk. (Learn the new rice rules about weekly servings.)

In 2012, we recommended that babies eat no more than one serving of infant rice cereal per day, on average, and that their diets should include cereals made from other grains. We did not find any reason to change our advice based on our new analysis. When we shared our results with the FDA and asked for comment, the agency reiterated its recommendation that everyone, including pregnant women, infants, and toddlers, should eat a variety of grains. And they pointed out that parents should “consider options other than rice cereal for a child’s first solid food.” 

 Cancer risk, other health problems

 Studies have linked the ingestion of inorganic arsenic to:

  • bladder
  • kidney
  • liver
  • prostate
  • lung and skin cancers

Moreover, research has associated inorganic arsenic intake with reproductive and developmental toxicity as well as an increased risk for congenital heart disease.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows public drinking water to contain 10 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic arsenic but its presence has been documented at higher levels in rural water sources and personal wells.  Still, the US Food and Drug Administration follows the EPA’s standard, allowing fruit juices and bottled water to contain 10 ppb of such inorganic arsenics as dimethylarsinic acid and monomethylarsonic acid.

What can you do

To help deter the consumption and effects of ingesting inorganic arsenic focus on the following:

  • Wash your fruits, vegetables and grains thoroughly
  • Eat a variety of whole grains as opposed to focusing on one more often
  • Harvest rainwater to water your garden instead of using the hose
  • Try to purchase non treated wood and lumber whenever possible

Most importantly, be an informed consumer!


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