Arsenic has been used as a poison for centuries; a single dose of inorganic arsenic about the weight of a postage stamp would be enough to kill you. But now concerns have been raised about chronic long-term exposure to smaller amounts of arsenic through drinking water, juices such as apple and grape juice, and foods such as rice and rice-based cereals and beverages.

While the EPA regulates the arsenic levels in bottled water and tap water, no such limits exist for the presence of arsenic in other foods and beverages. You may have seen the recent reports of high levels of arsenic in rice and rice products (including cereal and baby formula) as well as the apple and grape juices kids so love that Consumer Reports released. In this newsletter, I want to share some of those results with you along with some things you can do to minimize your exposure to this brain-altering toxic and carcinogenic substance.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance present in minerals in our earth, but the major threat to our food supply comes from our own industrial and agricultural policies. According to the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. is the leading user of arsenic in the world today, using 1.6 million tons, more than half of which has been used since the mid-1960s. Ingredients made from or containing arsenic are used in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth, fertilizer from poultry waste is used on crops, and residues from lead-arsenate insecticides — which were used heavily in cotton fields, orchards, and vineyards until they were banned in the 1980s — remain in the soil.

Arsenic was also used to pressure treat wood that was used to build playgrounds and decks and, while it was banned in 2003, that wood is often recycled as mulch and can contribute to arsenic in groundwater. Copper and lead are produced by heating arsenic-containing ores that are released into the environment through coal-fired power plants and smelters. As a result, the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that we release three times as much arsenic through our practices than would occur through nature.

There are two kinds of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic is not considered to be the threat to humans that inorganic is, though scientists are beginning to question that. They are discovering that there are circumstances in which organic arsenic can become inorganic and cause concerns including groundwater contamination. But the primary topic of conversation these days is around inorganic arsenic, which is a known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer.

Inorganic arsenic can also lead to increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, skin lesions, high blood pressure and immune deficiencies. Chronic low-level exposure can also mimic chronic fatigue syndrome and other ailments. According to Dr. Michael Harbut, Chief of the Environmental Cancer Program at Karmanos Institute, “I suspect there is an awful lot of chronic, low-level arsenic poisoning going on that’s never properly diagnosed.” Most of us, including most physicians, would never think to test for arsenic levels.

Another scientist, Joshua Hamilton, PhD a toxicologist specializing in arsenic research put it this way, “People sometimes say, ‘If arsenic exposure is so bad, why don’t you see more people sick or dying from it?’ But the many diseases likely to be increased by exposure even at relatively low levels are so common already that its effects are overlooked simply because no one has ever looked carefully for the connection.”

We all know that children’s developing brains and immune systems are even more susceptible so exposure in utero or in early childhood not only increases the risk of cancer later in life but can lead to lasting damage to brain function and an increased susceptibility to other diseases and conditions. Which is why the initial report that covered arsenic in juice caused so much concern.

The FDA set a limit for arsenic of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for tap water and bottled water and there is a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water for lead content but there is no such limit for juice. Many believe the limit for juice should be even lower due to its consumption by children and some scientists are calling for a limit of 3 ppb in juice. Consumer Reports investigated and tested a sampling of apple and grape juices and found that 10% of the sample had arsenic levels above 10 ppb. One in four or 25% had lead levels above the bottled water standard of 5 ppb.

In the sampling Consumer Reports conducted, levels of arsenic in apple juice ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb and grape juices ranged from 5.9 to 24.7 ppb. In addition, they found lead levels as much as 13.6 ppb in apple juice and 15.9 ppb in grape juice, far above the 5ppb standard for water. The apple juice brand names exceeding 10 ppb included Mott’s Apple & Eve and Walmart’s Great Value brand. Welch’s and Walgreen’s grape juice also each had a sample that exceeded 10 ppb.

Now a new report focusing on rice and rice-based products such as cereal, rice cakes, and rice milk has raised concerns. While arsenic is often found in fruits and vegetables (and their juices), rice is the next greatest source of arsenic in our diets due to the fact that rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water more effectively than other crops. Rice is grown in “water-flooded conditions” enabling arsenic to be more readily absorbed and stored.

Most American rice (76%) is grown in the south in states such as Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas, former cotton country. To combat the boll weevil beetle, arsenic-laden pesticides were commonly used and their residues remain in the soil today. Rice tested from these states had higher arsenic levels than rice grown elsewhere. Within every brand tested, brown rice tested higher for arsenic than its white counterpart, because white rice processing removes the outer surface layers, removing some of the arsenic as well.

Rice measurements are different than liquids; some scientists are suggesting that a limit of 200 ppb for white rice and 300 ppb for brown rice be enacted. However, these are total intake standards for adults. Many Hispanic and Asian cultures eat rice daily (sometimes more than one serving a day) and scientists wondered how much impact rice had vs. arsenic from other food sources.

They excluded anyone who had eaten seafood within 24 hours of their study (seafood contains an organic form of arsenic called arsenobetaine) as well as anyone whose urine contained arsenobetaine and focused only on inorganic arsenic. Scientists then examined 3633 people and found that those who ate one rice food item a day had a urinary arsenic level 44 % greater than those who did not, and people who ate two rice products a day had levels 70% higher than those who did not.

Beyond eating rice itself, this includes rice cakes, rice cereals, rice milk and any rice-based food. Regardless of ethnicity, if you eat rice daily or snack on rice cakes or rice cereals, you are likely exceeding the acceptable standards just on this food source alone, let alone consumption through fruits and vegetables and juices.

In addition to children’s juice consumption, concern has been raised about baby foods containing up to 23 ppb per jar and dried infant rice cereals with arsenic levels from 60-160 ppb. These are the first foods an infant eats and even small amounts could cause brain and endocrine concerns.

Among rice cereals, Consumer Reports found that the arsenic levels varied greatly even among samples of the same product. For example, they found a total arsenic level of 329 ppb in Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice cereal, and yet another sample of the same product showed arsenic levels of 97.7 ppb. This resulted in a serving of .8 to 1.3 micrograms of inorganic arsenic. Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice cereal had 1.7 to 2.7 micrograms of arsenic per serving, even though its total arsenic levels were lower ranging from 149-274 ppb.

Ready to eat cereals were not immune either. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies fared best at 2.3-2.7 micrograms per serving (which is still cause for concern especially for kids who are eating it daily) while Barbara’s Brown Rice Crispies came in at 5.9-6.7 micrograms per serving.

For infants, as well as for us all, the recommendation is to limit rice and rice-based products to one serving a day and mix in plenty of other grains such as wheat, oatmeal, quinoa, and amaranth. While all rice contains some arsenic, in general, rice from California, India and Thailand contain less arsenic than rice from the US South.

Reduce juice consumption especially for children. This is a good idea anyway, as juices are full of sugars and little fiber so they act much like soda in a child’s system. While buying organic juice is important for many other reasons we have already discussed, including fluoride levels in the juices, organic juices aren’t immune from arsenic. If the fruit was grown in soil heavy in arsenic, it will still exist in the juice, even if no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used. Nevertheless, if you are going to drink juice, buy organic.

Vary your vegetables so that you are eating many different kinds from different sources, organic where possible. Clean them thoroughly, especially potatoes and other vegetables whose skin is consumed. Choose organic chicken as non-organic chicken is often fed chicken feed that contains arsenic. And if you are on well water, be sure to have it tested regularly.

In Maine, my home state, half of the population relies on private wells and testing has found arsenic levels as high as 3100 ppb in well water there. A recent Texas study showed that even low-level exposure over the long-term from groundwater in rural Texas resulted in poor test scores in language, memory and other brain functions.

More and more research is emerging that even if you don’t consume excessive amounts but simply ingest smaller amounts through long-term habits and conditions, the effects are cumulative. So if you are concerned about exposure, for you or your child, ask your doctor to test for urinary arsenic levels.

To see the full report and test results on apple and grape juice, go to

To see the results for rice and rice-based products, go to

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

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