Food

Arsenic

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Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, food, and soil in organic and inorganic forms.

The FDA has been measuring total arsenic concentrations in foods, including rice and juices, through its Total Diet Study program since 1991. The agency also monitors toxic elements, including arsenic, in a variety of domestic and imported foods under the Toxic Elements Program, with emphasis is placed on foods that children are likely to eat or drink, such as juices.


Questions & Answers on Arsenic

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element present in the environment from both natural and human sources, including erosion of arsenic-containing rocks, volcanic eruptions, contamination from mining and smelting ores, and previous or current use of arsenic-containing pesticides.

Are there different types of arsenic?

There are two types of arsenic compounds in water, food, air, and soil: organic and inorganic (these together are referred to as “total arsenic”). The inorganic forms of arsenic are the forms that have been associated with long term health effects. Because both forms of arsenic have been found in soil and ground water for many years, some arsenic may be found in certain food and beverage products, including rice, fruit juices and juice concentrates.

How does arsenic get into foods? Do all foods have arsenic?

Arsenic may be present in many foods including grains, fruits, and vegetables where it is present due to absorption through the soil and water. While most crops don’t readily take up much arsenic from the ground, rice is different because it takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. In addition, some seafood has high levels of less toxic organic arsenic. 

Do organic foods have less arsenic than non-organic foods?

Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices.

What are the health risks associated with arsenic exposure?

Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. The FDA is currently examining these and other long-term effects.  

Does the FDA test for arsenic in foods?

Yes, the FDA has been testing for total arsenic in a variety of foods, including rice and juices, through its Total Diet Study program since 1991. The agency also monitors toxic elements, including arsenic, in selected domestic and imported foods under the Toxic Elements Program, including those that children are likely to eat or drink, such as juices.

Information on Arsenic in Specific Products

Method for Measuring Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Mercury and Lead in Foods

 

Page Last Updated: 07/17/2014
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