Arsenic in Food

The question of whether arsenic is present in foodstuffs in a significant quantity is crucial for the understanding of the proper remediation measures for Bangladesh. For many years it was thought that the principal route of exposure to arsenic in the USA was through the food chain. This was because arsenic had been used as a pesticide for many years before chlorinated hydrocarbons became popular. But it is now known that arsenic from groundwater dominates in many locations although in most of the USA exposure through food ingestion  may still dominate. Now it is reported that arsenic levels in foodstuffs in the USA are declining.

The study by Professor Hoq in Bagladesh is very important in this respect.

Arsenic has been found in foodstuffs in Bangladesh (as in the USA) but the crucial question is at what concentration. At the International Conference on remediation of arsenic exposure in Dhaka in December 1998 it was stated orally that the calculated dose was too small to be of importance. We hope to have these data on the web shortly. Professor Allan H Smith of Berkeley suggested a simple test in any village. Since urine is an indicator of arsenic exposure only for the preceding week, one could ask that a person drink and cook with bottled water for a week, but otherwise eat his or her usual diet, and the concentration of arsenic before and after the week could be compared. If, as expected the arsenic concentration drops, foodstuffs would not be a major cause of exposure.

This issue is crucial. There are fewer  wells used for agriculture than for drinking and cooking BUT more water is extracted from these wells so that probably MORE ground water is used for agriculture than for drinking and cooking.  . To replace them would increase the trouble and expense considerably. Therefore it is urgent to carry out such simple critical tests as well as to calculate exposures accurately. In any case, it would seem wise at the moment to concentrate on remediating those wells that are used for drinking and cooking.

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