We are connecting to consumers of food and beverage products potentially containing arsenic and mercury as a target community to respond to heightened concerns over arsenic in rice and rice products and the continued challenge of helping consumers know which fish to eat for the benefits of important nutrients but to avoid exposure to high levels of mercury.
Understanding dietary arsenic exposure is a complicated, ever-changing undertaking. Although consumption of arsenic-containing food, such as rice, is low in the U.S., there are populations who consume more foods that are higher in inorganic arsenic. Individuals with dietary restrictions (e.g., following a gluten-free diet), weaning infants, or people following traditional Asian or Hispanic diets may consume rice multiple times a day. A 2016 New Hampshire Birth Cohort study found that the intake of rice and rice products was associated with inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and suggested that every effort should be made to reduce arsenic exposure during this important phase of development.
Given the prevalence of arsenic in well water in New Hampshire, some members of these groups will also be exposed to arsenic via drinking water. To reduce arsenic exposure via food, the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program suggests including a variety of grains in the diet; cooking rice in large amounts of water; eating basmati rice from India,
Pakistan, or California; or eating sushi rice. Since rice is a very common ingredient in many foods, especially gluten-free foods, people should also check their processed foods for rice as a main ingredient and limit consumption accordingly.
In New Hampshire, arsenic exposure via contaminated drinking water or food happens every day. Clinical and public health professionals are vital to reducing exposure. Simple steps, like testing well water or eating a varied diet, can make a real difference. Working together, we can lower New Hampshire residents’ risk of arsenic exposure and the negative health effects associated with exposure over time.
People are exposed to mercury mainly through eating fish and shellfish — and 95 percent or more of the mercury in fish is the more toxic methylmercury. According to EPA, people should not eat fish fillets containing more than .3 parts per million (ppm) of methylmercury. Fish caught in water with very low concentrations of mercury (less than 1 part per trillion) can nonetheless contain harmful levels of methylmercury. In some marine ecosystems, the concentration of methylmercury increases 10 million times as it makes its way up through the food web from microscopic algae to shark and tuna.
For more information, contact Superfund.Community.Engagement@dartmouth.edu