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Imported Rice May Contain Up to 120 Times Acceptable Limit for Lead

Update Date: Apr 11, 2013 10:13 AM EDT
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A recent study conducted by researchers from Monmouth University found that rice imported into the United States may hold as much as 120 times the accepted limit of lead. This discovery comes on the heels of a finding that the grain may contain some arsenic. The news is considered to be the worst for Asian populations in the United States, who typically eat the most rice, though, since the grain is fast becoming a staple food for many people, it should be of concern to everyone.

According to the BBC, the United States imports 7 percent of its rice, from countries in Asia, Europe and South America. The researchers bought a number of imported packages of rice from Bhutan, China, the Czech Republic, India, Israel, Italy, Taiwan and Thailand. These countries make up 65 percent of the rice imports to the United States.

The researchers measured the amount of lead in each sample, then calculated how much lead a person would consume based on their daily consumption. The samples contained as much as 12 milligrams per kilogram, Time reports. By calculating consumption levels, the researchers found that the amount of lead exposure could be between 20 to 40 times accepted levels for adults, and up to 120 times accepted levels for babies and children. The researchers note that their estimates may be conservative because they based their calculations on daily recommended servings; many people may exceed those.

The study holds particular concern for parents of small children. Children who are younger than six years old are considered to be at particular risk for lead poisoning. For children, especially, lead exposure can cause extensive mental and physical damage. Sustained exposure can even lead to death. Adults are also impacted; lead exposure can lead to issues with high blood pressure, calcium deficiency and heart disease.

Rice from China and Taiwan held the most lead, though all of the samples of rice exceeded healthy lead limits. They believe that the rice became contaminated during the growing and harvesting of the grain. Because of the way that rice is grown, it is particular susceptible to contaminants in irrigation water.

"If you look through the scientific literature, especially on India and China, they irrigate their crops with raw sewage effluent and untreated industrial effluent," Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi said to BBC. "Research has been done in those countries, and concerns have been raised because of those practices, but it's still ongoing."

The study will be published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B.

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