(NaturalNews) Until the 1980's, when it became commonplace in commercial agriculture, arsenic was not much of a concern to the average consumer. But in the new millenium, it seems to be in the news more frequently than ever. It is showing up in places unexpectedly. One reason for this is that when arsenic is put into the ground, it doesn't go away. Ever.
Organic arsenic (or arsenic that occurs naturally) is of little or no concern to humans on a normally occurring scale. It is the inorganic arsenic that is not only dangerously toxic to humans but animals as well. Over time, exposure to arsenic can cause damage to a number of body tissues including: skin, nerves, the stomach, and the intestines. Even when inhaled, arsenic can cause irritation in the lungs and sore throat.
Lower levels of exposure to inorganic arsenic may cause:
* Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea * Decreased production of red and white blood cells * Abnormal heart rhythm * Blood vessel damage * A "pins and needles" sensation in hands and feet
Breathing or ingesting higher levels of the substance has been known to increase the risk of skin cancer, lung cancer,and tumors in the lungs, kidneys, and liver.
According to the EPA's website: "Approximately 90 percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is currently used as a wood preservative, but arsenic is also used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors. High arsenic levels can also come from certain fertilizers and animal feeding operations. Industry practices such as copper smelting, mining and coal burning also contribute to arsenic in our environment."
Then why are we ingesting arsenic on a daily basis and if so, can it can be avoided?
Arsenic In Our Fruit and Vegetable Supply
In the past, arsenic has been used as a pesticide on fruit and vegetable crops across the world in the form of arsenate.
Although the commercial agriculture industry continues to claim that the levels of inorganic arsenic are not harmful to the public in such small amounts, as consumers, should we be concerned with the cumulative effects if arsenic is found in numerous places in our food supply?
It seems that in the past several years there have been increasing concerns about old orchard sites and places that were used to mix chemicals in years past. These places are unsuitable for growing food or obtaining water.
There is little to no research being conducted to discover if higher levels of arsenic in the soil actually causes arsenic levels in the fruit or vegetables to rise. The research that has been done is not on a wide scale and the results are controversial at best.
At this point, with so little evidence, if you must buy conventional produce your best option is to wash your produce thoroughly before eating. Research has shown that lightly soaking and scrubbing your produce with plain soap and water reduces pesticides/herbicides/fungicides by 80-90%. Soaking your produce for half an hour in a light hydrogen peroxide and water solution and then lightly scrubbing is also highly effective. This method can be used on almost all produce except strawberries due to bleaching.
Even when buying locally and as more and more of our "organic" produce is being imported from countries with relatively low standards for their "organic" labeling, the above cleaning methods could benefit as well.
World Grains Suspected of High Arsenic Levels
Touted as a new "super food", rice bran has become the grain of choice in many countries.
Rice bran is the shavings that remain following the polishing of brown rice into white rice and new concerns are being raised about the level of arsenic that is in rice bran around the world. Levels of arsenic found in rice bran that is used in food aide programs such as ones funded by the United States are testing at higher levels than permissible by Chinese law. China is the only country at this time that has specific standards for allowable levels of arsenic in food. With recently updated standards, the current level allowed in China is .15 mg of inorganic arsenic per kg of food.
The University of Aberdeen, UK has conducted a study lead by Andrew Meharg showing that on average, polished white rice contained .56mg arsenic levels. The brown rice was slightly higher at .76mg. The rice bran came in at a substantially higher count: 3.3mg.
Normally, this would not be a concern. Most countries discard their rice bran except the Japanese who use it in traditional recipes for pickling. Producers claim that it is one of the most wasted commodities in the world with 60 million metric tonnes being discarded yearly around the world. But in the recent years as more products have been produced that take aim at the health conscious, rice bran has become quite prevalent in health food stores being labeled as a "super food" that is brimming with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients. A powdered version is also available. When mixed with water, it creates a nutritional beverage that is typically distributed to malnourished children in impoverished countries. In the study conducted by Meharg and his team, the rice bran drink powders contained between "0.48 mg/kg and 1.16 mg/kg" of inorganic arsenic. That is 3 to 6.5 times the amount allowed by Chinese law.
Meharg and his colleagues are calling for the United States and European Union to follow the Chinese example and examine standards regarding inorganic arsenic. They feel they should be re-evaluated and updated for the benefit of public safety.
Arsenic On Your Dinner Plate?
Where you buy your poultry from may be indicative of how much inorganic arsenic your family may be ingesting.
Concerns in the last several years have pointed in the direction of commercial chicken farms and the feed that may be good for quickly plumping up the birds for fast dispatch. But is it adding unnecessary arsenic to our food?
Roxarsone, an arsenic based substance, is added to commercial chicken feed as an antibiotic and to promote health and fast growth. When it is ingested, it passes through the birds in unchanged form. In other words, it does not break down. The arsenic that is given to the birds in feed infiltrates the tissues of the chickens and subsequently ends up in trace amounts sitting on your dinner plate. The manure is then scooped up and used or sold as fertilizer which has the potential to add arsenic to our vegetables, fruits, and ground water supply.
(www.Consumerreports.org) recently conducted testing on a combination of 116 livers and muscle from national brands of conventional and organic chicken that could be bought in grocery stores around the United States as well as from a mail-order company. No detectable arsenic levels were found in 15 liver samples from Foster Farms and none were found in any organic samples that were tested. Every other chicken liver tested contained 466 parts per billion (ppb) of total arsenic. The FDA's acceptable limit is 2000 ppb. Although this level is far less than the FDA's total tolerance level, could a cumulative effect cause concern?
Where the arsenic came from is another question that cannot be answered. Whether from the drugs or naturally found in the environment was unclear. Alternatively, there was no arsenic found in the organic chicken and this should be telling considering that the USDA forbids arsenic in organic chicken feed.
The acceptable level of arsenic allowed by the FDA in muscle meat is 500 ppb less than in liver according to the (www.consumerreport.org study). The FDA's reasoning for this seems to be because people tend to eat much less liver than muscle. They found no "detectable" levels of arsenic in their study in the muscle tissue tested.
More stringent levels are imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are charged with regulating the arsenic levels in the water supply. A few of the chicken-liver samples contained amounts of arsenic that, according to the EPA's limits, have the potential to cause "neurological problems in children that ate 2 ounces of cooked liver per week or in an adult who ate 5.5 ounces per week."
Some critics are asking the hard questions regarding the use of arsenic in chicken feed even in small amounts. "We're trying to do everything we can to get levels lower in drinking water at very great cost," says Ellen Silbergeld, Ph.D., a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "And yet we're deliberately adding it to chicken."
A spokesperson for the National Chicken Council, Richard Lobb, was asked about the use of arsenic-containing drugs for poultry. "There simply does not appear to be a human health problem of any kind resulting from the use of arsenicals in poultry production."
Roxarsone is used as an antibiotic along with human antibiotics to speed the growth of chicken for commercial farms. Unfortunately, this also causes the bacteria in the intestines of the birds to build a resistance to them. If this thought is followed through to conclusion, people consuming the birds containing these bacteria could become ill if the meat is handled or cooked improperly. A standard round of drugs or antibiotics may not cure their illness due to the drugs used in the poultry.
The FDA concluded in October of 2002 that two antibiotics used in poultry had caused drug resistance. One maker removed their product from the market immediately. Bayer, the maker of the other drug, fought the FDA's decision to withdraw the approval it had previously received for Baytril (use in poultry). An administrative law judge ruled in the agency's favor in March of 2004. Bayer appealed this decision. The FDA has not acted as of November 2004.
There is a proposed legislation on Capitol Hill to systematically phase out the use of "non-therapeutic" arsenic in feed of antibiotics for humans. "More than 300 organizations, including the American Medical Association, have endorsed the bill, but its future is uncertain."
With the rash of bad decisions regarding public health as of late, caution is advised in expecting some sweeping move by our government in our favor.
It's In Our Food. Is It In Our Water?
In 2001, the EPA has reduced its allowance for arsenic levels in the water supply from 50 ppb down to 10 ppb. President Bush had struck down this measure just the year before. The stricter measures were proposed under the Clinton administration but was reversed by Mr. Bush not long after he took office.
On September 18, 2008, Hinckley-Big Rock Middle School in Big Rock, Il discovered that their levels in some samples were nearly triple the acceptable level putting all of the children and faculty at risk for low level poisoning.
This news comes on the heels of a review of a government study linking arsenic levels in drinking water to type 2 diabetes. John Hopkins University researchers concluded that people with higher levels of arsenic in their blood, possibly from drinking water, were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Those in the study with diabetes had 26% higher levels of arsenic in their blood than those who did not have diabetes. This translated into a 3.6% greater chance of developing the disease than those with lower arsenic levels.
Our current accepted levels of 10 ppb may need to be revisited and made even more staunch if further research can duplicate these results.
What Can Be Done?
Some may think that their water issue may be solved by drinking bottled water because bottled water mostly comes from underground (except some brands), but scientists have discovered that there are higher levels of arsenic in drinking water from underground sources than in surface water such as lakes and ponds.
Municipal water supplies are tested for compliance but if you feel the need to eliminate as much arsenic from your tap as possible, investing in a reputable filtration system for your home would be a wise expenditure. Not only are whole house filters available, there are also under-the-sink filters, and counter top filters that will eliminate most if not all arsenic, lead, fluoride, and more from your water.
To avoid the trace arsenic from the commercial chicken industry, buy organic. If you cannot find organic, buy local. There are many farmers that sell fresh farm raised, free range chicken. Even if it not labeled as "organic", keep in mind the "red tape" that small farms must go through to achieve "USDA Organic" status. Ask some of the following questions before you buy from a local farm: Were the chickens pasture raised? Were they given grains to eat/were they free range or was standard chicken feed used? Even though they are not labeled as "organic", were the birds raised organically? Have they been treated with antibiotics?
The answers to those questions should make it clear whether there is a risk for higher arsenic levels in the farms poultry.
Buying local not only keeps your family healthier, but keeps your local economy healthier as well.
The same standards apply for fruits and vegetables. If organic or local produce cannot be found in your area, wash or soak fruits and vegetables thoroughly in a mild soap solution or clean water with a dash of hydrogen peroxide to remove the greatest amount of pesticides and trace levels of arsenic from being in the ground. Organic and local produce should be washed as well.
If all of the information regarding arsenic is beginning to give you a headache, don't take an aspirin. It's in there too.
About the author
Jennifer McKinley is a wife, mother of five, home-schooler, and business owner. She has spent many years researching issues dealing with holistic and natural medicine and how different chemicals in our homes, foods, medications, and environments affect our health and quality of life. Her goal is to promote public awareness and knowledge regarding these issues. She has recently launched a hand made personal care product company promoting natural and chemical free skin care. Please visit www.urbannaturals.net