Arsenic and Children

Arsenic in food, drinking water and other sources can be unsafe for babies and children. Learn how your family might be exposed to arsenic and what you can do.

Why is arsenic bad for babies and children?

Young children have very small bodies and eat more food per pound of body weight than adults as they grow. As a result, they get more arsenic from food or drinks compared to adults. Also, babies and young children can be more sensitive to the harmful effects of arsenic because their bodies are rapidly growing and they may not have fully developed systems to get rid of harmful chemicals as well as adults. For babies and kids, studies have shown that having arsenic in their bodies over time can lead to:

  • Lower IQ
  • Impaired brain development
  • Growth problems
  • Breathing problems
  • An unhealthy immune system
  • Cancer as an adult

If you’re pregnant, your baby could be exposed to arsenic too. Arsenic can cross the placenta, which means that a pregnant woman’s arsenic exposure through food and water may affect her baby’s growth and development or lead to health problems later on in his or her life.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Drink Safe Water

  • If you have a private well, test your water for arsenic. If your well has arsenic, switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking immediately and learn about your options for getting arsenic out of your drinking water.
  • If your drinking water comes from a public source, then arsenic levels are monitored, but you can double check the amount of arsenic in your water by accessing your “consumer confidence report” or “water quality report.” While arsenic must be 10 ppb or less in public water as required by federal law, making sure any arsenic in your water is as close to zero as possible is better for your child or baby.
  • If you’re not sure about the source or safety of your tap water, use bottled water to mix your baby formula until you are sure your home water supply is as close to zero arsenic as possible.

Diet Choices

  • Talk to your doctor about breast-feeding your infant or toddler. Studies have found lower levels of arsenic in breast milk than in infant formula.
  • If you choose formula for your baby, ask your doctor to recommend one that isn’t made with rice or rice products such as brown rice syrup.
  • Avoid rice milk for babies and young children.
  • If your child is eating infant cereals, offer a variety of fortified infant cereals such as oat, barley, or multigrain instead of only rice cereal.
  • Limit how much fruit juice your child drinks. Even better, give your child whole fruits instead. Drinking a lot of juice can be bad for health and teeth.
  • Check with your pediatrician to make a list of healthy and low-arsenic food choices.
  • Check ingredients of snack foods and avoid those containing rice or rice products.
  • Eat a varied diet.

Be Proactive

How can you reduce arsenic for your children?

Water

If you have a private well, test your water for arsenic. If your well contains arsenic above 5 parts per billion:

  • Switch to bottled water right away.
  • Some Pitcher Filters are certified for arsenic removal and are a good short-term solution. Check for certification by the National Sanitation Foundation and be sure the pitcher reduces arsenic to below 10 ppb. Change filters regularly to ensure continuous arsenic removal.
  • Carbon-based water pitcher filters do not remove arsenic.
  • Boiling your water does not remove arsenic.
  • Install a treatment system
    • If you’re pregnant, or if you have young kids, look for a treatment system that lowers arsenic levels as close to zero as possible.
    • Some treatment systems remove arsenic from just a single tap, like your kitchen sink. If you choose that system, make sure your kids don’t swallow water while bathing or brushing their teeth.

Baby formula

Studies have shown that breastfed babies receive better nutrition and have lower exposure to arsenic than babies who are given formula. If you choose formula for your baby, ask your pediatrician to recommend one that isn’t made with rice or rice products such as brown rice syrup. If you’re not sure about the source or safety of your tap water, use bottled water to mix your baby formula until you are sure your home water supply is as close to zero arsenic as possible. If your drinking water comes from a public source, then arsenic levels are monitored, but you can double check the amount of arsenic in your water by accessing your “consumer confidence report” or “water quality report.”

Rice and rice products

Rice and rice products are in many baby foods and drinks. Infant rice cereal is a common first food, but other infant cereals such as oat and barley are equally nutritious.

What Foods Should I Be Concerned About For My Child?

Some foods have more arsenic than others. Examples include:

  • Rice cereal
  • Rice snacks
  • Rice milk
  • Baby formula made with rice
  • Foods with brown rice syrup
  • Apple juice

How Do I Know How Much Arsenic is in the Foods I Give My Child?

When you go to the grocery store, you won’t see labels on foods saying how much arsenic is in them. In the U.S., there are no laws about labels or limits on arsenic in foods. So, it’s best to reduce or avoid the foods you know have arsenic in them if you can.


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RICE MILK: Babies and young kids shouldn’t drink rice drinks. If your child can’t drink cow’s milk, choose:

  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk

FRUIT JUICE: Some fruit juices, particularly apple and pear, can have arsenic in them, so limit the amount of juice your child drinks to avoid the possibility of arsenic exposure and to reduce risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Whole fruit is a better option.

EAT A VARIED DIET: Eating a varied diet is an important way to decrease a child’s exposure to toxins in any one food. Serving a wide range of foods provides a variety of nutrients to support healthy growth and development. While rice can be a part of a child’s balanced diet, make sure to include other grains such as oats, barley, wheat and corn. Check with your pediatrician to make a list of healthy and low-arsenic food choices.

SOIL: Soils in some parts of the country contain high levels of arsenic. Try to keep children from eating dirt when they play outside. Because fruits and vegetables can have soil on them, be sure to always wash them before eating or cooking.

WOOD: Old wood playground equipment, decks, and picnic tables can sometimes have arsenic on them from a chemical that was used to pressure-treat wood. Make sure your kids wash their hands after playing outside. The best way to keep your kids safe from arsenic on wood that you own is to apply a sealant every two years if the wood contains the chemical.

“Take action to reduce arsenic if you’re a pregnant woman, or have kids. Arsenic is harmful to child growth, development and brain function. Kids consume more food and water per pound of body weight, so they are more likely than other age groups to be exposed to too much arsenic.”

Dr. Carolyn Murray, Dartmouth College

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