Unsure where it's coming from, it's nearly impossible to regulate.
Luigi Amasia Photos/Flickr
Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson revealed in Silent Spring how toxic chemicals, like DDT, work their way from soil and plants into animal and human bodies. Her book was a call to action against the continued, unchecked addition of poisons to the environment.
Last week, Consumer Reports published findings of "worrisome" levels of arsenic in ordinary rice sold in the U.S. Arsenic contamination affected a variety of rice forms: brown and white, organic and regular, long and short-grain. The researchers found arsenic in dozens of commercial products including baby food, cereals, rice cakes and rice drinks. The FDA reported similar results in an initial statement released last week and is pursuing further studies of the matter.
Arsenic is a common, naturally-occurring element. The metalloid substance, famous for its tasteless, odorless and occasionally lethal properties, sits at number 33 in the periodic table. Arsenic arises in both organic and inorganic forms. One source of organic, dietary arsenic is seafood, particularly shellfish. Most studies of arsenic's toxicity have focused on its inorganic forms, including lead-arsenate, used in U.S. pesticides until the 1980s, and other chemical preparations still used in fertilizers, wood treatment and for other purposes today.
"The results came as no surprise," said Keeve Nachman, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Arsenic is ubiquitous, he said, and it, derives from both natural and man-made processes. Because rice is grown in watery fields, it's prone to absorbing chemicals from groundwater. "The new analysis is important because it was the first to look closely at arsenic in a 'market basket' sample," he said.