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Study Improves our Understanding of Dietary Sources of Arsenic

Dartmouth Researchers (from left) Carol Folt, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Margaret Karagas, and Kathryn Cottingham review study data A study advancing the understanding of the dietary sources of human exposure to arsenic has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a team of scientists from the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth College (Dartmouth Children’s Center).

The study measured the arsenic levels in the urine from about 230 pregnant women living in New Hampshire, and found that the level was significantly higher for women who had eaten rice within 2 days of the testing than those that had not eaten rice. The study is being conducted in an area where the level of naturally occurring arsenic in well water is higher than in many other parts of the U.S. Although EPA standards set limits for arsenic levels in drinking water, concerns about arsenic exposure are now extending beyond water to foods such as the rice plant, which can take up arsenic from the environment where it is grown. Researchers are investigating whether the combined level of arsenic from both water and food could affect the health of the developing fetus and young children.

The authors note that their findings highlight the potential need to monitor arsenic content in food and reinforce the concern that some private well water in some areas of New Hampshire may be a potential source of arsenic exposure. While this study reveals the potential for exposure to arsenic from rice, additional research is needed to determine if there are actual health impacts from this type of exposure and ultimately any health risks, if found, would then need to be weighed against the nutritional benefits of rice consumption.

This study confirms research conducted by EPA scientists in 2009 which found that some fruits, fruit juices, rice, beer, flour, corn and wheat can be dietary sources of arsenic. The 2009 study used computer models to develop population-level estimates of exposure to arsenic from food. The study found estimated arsenic exposures from diet to be approximately one-fifth the level set by EPA to protect consumers from the effects of long-term exposure to arsenic in tap water.

The Dartmouth Children’s Center is jointly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. The goal of the Children’s Center is to better understand the combined impact of arsenic both in drinking water and food on children’s health and to support community and public awareness to minimize those health risks and reduce environmental threats to children’s health.

To view the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, visit: Rice consumption contributes to arsenic exposure in US women exit EPA

For more information about the study: Dartmouth Researchers Evaluate Rice as a Source of Fetal Arsenic Exposure exit EPA

To learn more about EPA/NIEHS’s Children’s Centers, visit Children's Environmental Health Centers (CEHCs)

To view the Dartmouth Children’s Center website, visit The Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth exit EPA.

For more information on the 2009 study, see science in ACTION (PDF) (2 pp, 75 K)

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