Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs in many minerals such as sulfur and metals. As such, groundwater contains much higher concentrations of arsenic than surface water. Unfortunately, as groundwater depth increases, so does the amount of arsenic. It is known that arsenic from drinking water can cause hypertension, diabetes and skin, lung, kidney and bladder cancers. The developing nervous systems of small children are particularly vulnerable to arsenic. About 80% of our public water systems serve less than 4,000 people. Since many of these small communities depend on wells for drinking water, this natural contaminant is harming these Americans most. Until relatively recently, the amount of arsenic we allowed in our drinking water was 50 parts per billion (ppb). After studies revealed this 1942 standard would cause bladder and lung cancers, the Clinton and Bush administrations reduced arsenic limits to 10ppb, as recommended by the World Health Organization. However, the maximum safe contaminant level for arsenic continues to be debated. Health advocates say that an even stricter standard of 5ppb is needed. They say a 10ppb arsenic standard will still cause 30 deaths per 10,000 people, well above the EPA’s acceptable death rate of 1 in 1 million. In 2004, New Jersey adopted this 5ppb standard. Opponents claim implementing a stricter arsenic standard will do more harm than good. They claim the financial burden of forcing this standard on 20,000 small American communities will keep them from funding other important services.

Due to being grown in soil and water, scientists have long known that rice is good at absorbing inorganic arsenic, mercury, tungsten and other metals. And if water is reduced during growth, rice absorbs toxic cadmium instead of these metals. Advocates say that even low levels of arsenic can affect health. Rice is somewhat unique among plants in that it stores metals in its grain rather than its leaf. Brown rice has the highest levels of this contaminant because arsenic accumulates in its bran and husk, which are removed during the processing of white rice. Arsenic studies have raised concerns we may be getting too much of this known carcinogen in everyday foods such as cereal, baby food, noodles and even some juices and beer. Scientists are researching ways to block rice’s metal-absorbing properties by attempting to genetically engineer rice to filter out these metals. Advocates are particularly concerned about the amount of rice that is typically consumed by infants. They are calling on the FDA to set federal standards for arsenic in rice and other foods containing rice.

Pending Legislation: None
H.R.2529 - Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure Act of 2015 or RICE Act

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