Potentially high lead levels found in imported rice

April 16, 2013

A study presented at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society shows that rice imported from certain countries may contain high levels of lead that could pose health risks, particularly for infants and children.

Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, who headed the analysis of rice imported from Asia, Europe, and South America, pointed out that imports account for only 7% of the rice consumed in the United States. With vast rice fields in Louisiana, California, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, the United States is a major producer and exporter of the grain. However, imports of rice and rice flour are increasing―by more than 200% since 1999―and rice is the staple food for 3 billion people worldwide, he added.

Tongesayi’s team, which is with Monmouth University in N.J., found that levels of lead in rice imported into the United States ranged from 6 to 12 mg/kg. From those numbers, they calculated the daily exposure levels for various populations and then made comparisons with the FDA’s provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels for lead. They detected the highest amounts of lead in rice from Taiwan and China. Samples from the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India, and Thailand had significantly high levels of lead as well. Analysis of rice samples from Pakistan, Brazil, and other countries were still underway.

Because of the increase in rice imports into the United States, Tongesayi said that rice from other nations has made its way into a wide variety of grocery stores, large supermarket chains, and restaurants, as well as ethnic specialty markets and restaurants.

“Such findings present a situation that is particularly worrisome given that infants and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning,” Tongesayi said. “For infants and children, the daily exposure levels from eating the rice products analyzed in this study would be 30–60 times higher than the FDA’s PTTI levels. Asians consume more rice, and for these infants and children, exposures would be 60–120 times higher. For adults, the daily exposure levels were 20–40 times higher than the PTTI levels.”

Press release