High exposure to inorganic arsenic by food: the need for risk reduction

Arch Toxicol. 2015 Dec;89(12):2219-27. doi: 10.1007/s00204-015-1627-1. Epub 2015 Nov 19.


Arsenic is a human carcinogen that occurs ubiquitously in soil and water. Based on epidemiological studies, a benchmark dose (lower/higher bound estimate) between 0.3 and 8 μg/kg bw/day was estimated to cause a 1 % increased risk of lung, skin and bladder cancer. A recently published study by EFSA on dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic in the European population reported 95th percentiles (lower bound min to upper bound max) for different age groups in the same range as the benchmark dose. For toddlers, a highly exposed group, the highest values ranged between 0.61 and 2.09 µg arsenic/kg bw/day. For all other age classes, the margin of exposure is also small. This scenario calls for regulatory action to reduce arsenic exposure. One priority measure should be to reduce arsenic in food categories that contribute most to exposure. In the EFSA study the food categories 'milk and dairy products,' 'drinking water' and 'food for infants' represent major sources of inorganic arsenic for infants and also rice is an important source. Long-term strategies are required to reduce inorganic arsenic in these food groups. The reduced consumption of rice and rice products which has been recommended may be helpful for a minority of individuals consuming unusually high amounts of rice. However, it is only of limited value for the general European population, because the food categories 'grain-based processed products (non rice-based)' or 'milk and dairy products' contribute more to the exposure with inorganic arsenic than the food category 'rice.' A balanced regulatory activity focusing on the most relevant food categories is required. In conclusion, exposure to inorganic arsenic represents a risk to the health of the European population, particularly to young children. Regulatory measures to reduce exposure are urgently required.

Keywords: Arsenic; Drinking water; Human exposure; Regulatory toxicology; Rice; Risk assessment; Risk management; Threshold values.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dairy Products / analysis
  • Drinking Water / analysis
  • Drinking Water / chemistry
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Oryza / chemistry
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*


  • Drinking Water
  • Arsenic