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New Study Shows That Rice May Be Contaminated With Arsenic

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page and our Environment and Climate Resource page.
Arsenic is nasty stuff. Concentrated doses of the chemical can be fatal - one reason it's long been a popular poison for assassins and unhappy widows. And chronic high exposure has been linked to skin lesions, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. But scientists are increasingly concerned about even low-dose exposures [PDF], especially for pregnant women, finding that prenatal arsenic exposure is linked to infant mortality and low-birth weight.

The most common route of exposure to arsenic is through drinking water, in part because groundwater can be contaminated with the naturally occurring chemical. But in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have found that eating rice can also lead to arsenic exposure, raising questions about how much of the chemical may be making its way into the food supply - posing special risks to pregnant women and their children.

The study, led by Margaret Kargas and Diane Gilbert-Diamond of the Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth Medical School, looked at 229 pregnant women in New Hampshire whose urine had been tested for arsenic concentration. Seventy-three of those women reported consuming rice, averaging about half a cup a day of cooked rice, while 156 women did not eat rice. The tap water in each subject's home was also tested for arsenic.