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Open Access Debate

Time to revisit arsenic regulations: comparing drinking water and rice

Sébastien Sauvé

Author Affiliations

Environmental Chemistry Laboratory, Chemistry Department, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:465  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-465

Published: 17 May 2014



Current arsenic regulations focus on drinking water without due consideration for dietary uptake and thus seem incoherent with respect to the risks arising from rice consumption. Existing arsenic guidelines are a cost-benefit compromise and, as such, they should be periodically re-evaluated.


Literature data was used to compare arsenic exposure from rice consumption relative to exposure arising from drinking water. Standard risk assessment paradigms show that arsenic regulations for drinking water should target a maximum concentration of nearly zero to prevent excessive lung and bladder cancer risks (among others). A feasibility threshold of 3 μg As l-1 was determined, but a cost-benefit analysis concluded that it would be too expensive to target a threshold below 10 μg As l-1. Data from the literature was used to compare exposure to arsenic from rice and rice product consumption relative to drinking water consumption. The exposure to arsenic from rice consumption can easily be equivalent to or greater than drinking water exposure that already exceeds standard risks and is based on feasibility and cost-benefit compromises. It must also be emphasized that many may disagree with the implications for their own health given the abnormally high cancer odds expected at the cost-benefit arsenic threshold.


Tighter drinking water quality criteria should be implemented to properly protect people from excessive cancer risks. Food safety regulations must be put in place to prevent higher concentrations of arsenic in various drinks than those allowed in drinking water. Arsenic concentrations in rice should be regulated so as to roughly equate the risks and exposure levels observed from drinking water.

Arsenic; Rice; Drinking water; Food safety; Cancer risks