(Beyond Pesticides, September 20, 2012) Raising questions about the adequacy of pesticide regulation, historically and ongoing, Consumer Reports published a new study yesterday that finds “worrisome” levels of inorganic arsenic in rice products. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen. This new report follows its earlier one that finds high levels of arsenic in apple and grape juice. The report finds elevated arsenic levels across organic and conventional products, raising serious questions about widespread environmental and soil contamination from past and continuing arsenical pesticide use.
Although organic arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, it is synthetic inorganic arsenic that poses the biggest health hazards to humans and animals. So, humans are exposed to two kinds of the carcinogen in air, water, soil, and food sources. But unlike organic arsenic, which is found naturally in the environment, inorganic arsenic is present in our food as a result of pesticide application and animal feed. Arsenic is added to chicken feed as a supplement to control intestinal parasites and promote growth. It is consequently transferred into the meat of the animals and turns up in chicken manure. Arsenic is also widely used in the treatment of utility poles and in the arsenical herbicide MSMA (monosodium methanearsonate), which is being phased out by December 31, 2013.
Several studies have shown that inorganic arsenic can increase the risk of lung, skin, bladder, liver, kidney, and prostate cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and EPA have determined that inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence from human data. In 1981, EPA published a Position Document with findings that inorganic arsenical wood preservatives could result in oncogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic and neurotoxic effects. In addition to cancer effects, arsenic in the body can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, blood vessel change, or death and can damage many tissues including nerves, stomach and intestines.
According to Consumer Reports,
“The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike. See the chart summarizing results of our tests for arsenic in rice or rice products.
Though rice isn’t the only dietary source of arsenic””some vegetables, fruits, and even water can harbor it””the Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no “safe” level of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
No federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods, but the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). Keep in mind: That level is twice the 5 ppb that the EPA originally proposed and that New Jersey actually established. Using the 5-ppb standard in our study, we found that a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.
We also discovered that some infant rice cereals, which are often a baby’s first solid food, had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times more than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal. Given our findings, we suggest limiting the consumption of rice products.”
See sources of arsenic in rice products.
Later in the day yesterday, according to Consumer Reports, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Illinois Attorney General confirmed that it had found residues in rice products that concurred with the Consumer Reports’ findings. FDA said it will prioritize continued study of the issue.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.