Arsenic exposure within the Korean community (United States) based on dietary behavior and arsenic levels in hair, urine, air, and water

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Apr;117(4):632-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.11827. Epub 2008 Dec 8.


Background: Determining arsenic exposure in groups based on geographic location, dietary behaviors, or lifestyles is important, as even moderate exposures may lead to health concerns.

Objectives/methods: The Korean community in Washington State, represents a group warranting investigation, as they consume foods (e.g., shellfish, rice, finfish, and seaweed) known to contain arsenic. As part of the Arsenic Mercury Intake Biometric Study, we examined the arsenic levels in hair and urine along with the diets of 108 women of childbearing age from within this community. Arsenic levels in indoor air and drinking water were also investigated, and shellfish commonly consumed were collected and analyzed for total and speciated arsenic.

Results: The six shellfish species analyzed (n = 667) contain total arsenic (range, 1-5 microg/g) but are a small source of inorganic arsenic (range, 0.01-0.12 microg/g). Six percent of the individuals may have elevated urinary inorganic arsenic levels (> 10 microg/L) due to diet. Seaweed, rice, shellfish, and finfish are principal sources for total arsenic intake/excretion based on mass balance estimates. Rice consumption (163 g/person/day) may be a significant source of inorganic arsenic. Air and water are not significant sources of exposure. Hair is a poor biometric for examining arsenic levels at low to moderate exposures.

Conclusions: We conclude that a portion of this community may have dietary inorganic arsenic exposure resulting in urine levels exceeding 10 microg/L. Although their exposure is below that associated with populations exposed to high levels of arsenic from drinking water (> 100 microg/L), their exposure may be among the highest in the United States.

Keywords: air; arsenic; exposure; hair; inorganic; intake; shellfish; urine; water.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air / analysis
  • Arsenic / metabolism*
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Asian / ethnology
  • Diet / ethnology
  • Environmental Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Contamination*
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Korea / ethnology
  • Oryza / chemistry
  • Seafood / analysis
  • United States / ethnology
  • Washington / ethnology
  • Water Supply / analysis


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Arsenic