Is Arsenic in Rice a Major Human Health Concern?

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Department of Biological Sciences


Arsenic (As) is a toxic metalloid associated with various negative human health impacts including cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. Arsenic contamination of groundwater and soil is a major human health issue, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. Use of As-contaminated groundwater from shallow tube wells for irrigation of paddy rice, the staple food for people in this region, is one of the causes of As-related health impacts. The anaerobic growing conditions of flooded rice paddies and the unique physiology of the rice plants lead to increased As levels in rice. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set advisory levels of As in polished (i.e., white) rice grain at 0.2 mg/kg, but the EU and USA are yet to set legal standards for As in rice and rice-based products. Strategies for lowering As accumulation in rice revolve around two approaches—agronomic and biotechnological. Agronomic approaches, such as mineral supplementation of soil using iron, phosphorus, sulfur, silicon, water management, soil aeration practices, and the use of biological agents, are designed to lower As solubility, and uptake by rice. Rotation of the rice crop with As accumulating plants could also result in lowering soil As. Biotechnological approaches involve producing transgenic rice varieties by altering the expression of genes involved in As uptake, translocation, and sequestration in the plant. These approaches, combined with proper diet management and creating public awareness on potential health risks resulting from chronic exposure to As in rice, could play a key role in risk reduction.

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Current Pollution Reports