HANOVER, N.H. - Researchers at Dartmouth College have found arsenic in some foods, including infant formula and cereal bars, using organic brown rice syrup as a sweetener.
According to the Environment Protection Agency , Arsenic is a poison to humans. Long-term exposure to it can cause skin damage, circulatory problems, paralysis, and blindness and has been linked to an increase in cancer.
Arsenic is a natural element that can enter the food chain from the erosion of natural deposits or runoffs from orchards or industrial wastes.
According to the findings of the study published on Thursday by the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Heath Perspectives, the arsenic levels found one type of infant formula was six times the federal limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic in drinking water.
Two of the 17 infant formulas tested listed organic brown rice syrup as the product's primary ingredient.
Researchers are worried for the health of babies that ingested the arsenic-laden formula because they are very vulnerable to the element's toxic effects due to their small size and development.
Twenty-two of 29 cereal or energy bars tested listed organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain or rice flakes as one of their top five ingredients. The bars containing one of those rice products had arsenic levels ranging from 23 to 128 ppb. The other seven bars contained arsenic levels from 8 to 27 ppb.
Researchers tested three high-energy products known as "energy shots" used by athletes and found one contained 84 ppb of total arsenic while the other two contained 171 ppb.
A recent Consumer Reports investigation found elevated arsenic levels in apple and grape juices.
The Dartmouth researchers conclude the federal government needs to set regulatory limits for arsenic found in foods.
"I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children's exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown rice syrup is the main ingredient," says Brian Jackson, Ph.D., lead author of this study and a member of Dartmouth's Superfund Research Program.
The U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation last week to call on the Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices. No federal limits for arsenic currently exist for juices or most foods.
The researchers do note eating an occasional cereal bar does not pose much of a risk, but add, it is wise to be aware of foods known to contain arsenic and attempt to limit your overall exposure risk to it.
For more information, visit the Consumer Reports article at news.consumerreports.org/health/2012/02/new-study-finds-arsenic-in-infant-formula-cereal-bars.html .