Atomic arsenic: Food insights

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  • Published: Jun 15, 2016
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: Atomic arsenic: Food insights


FI-HGAAS set up details per Table 1 from Sigrist et al/Food Chem, Elsevier

Researchers in Argentina have developed an optimized flow injection hydride generation atomic absorption spectroscopy (FI-HGAAS) method for the determination of total arsenic concentration in various foods.

The water and food supply in many parts of the world are affected by arsenic contamination, which leads to chronic poisoning of the people living there, a topic I first brought to public attention after reading about analytical research undertaken in West Bengal back in 1995. Unfortunately, there is no quick remedy to decontamination because the toxic arsenic salts solubilised from the underlying bedrock are a natural phenomenon.

Now, Mirna Sigrist, Nandi Hilbe, Lucila Brusa, Darío Campagnoli, and Horacio Beldoménico of the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, in Santa Fe, Argentina, have used FI-HGAAS to analyse 117 samples of beef, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, egg, rice, rice-based products, wheat flour, corn flour, oats, breakfast cereals, legumes and potatoes. They then used their data to estimate the contribution to personal arsenic burden due to dietary intake rather than other sources. The team points out that the limit of detection and limit of quantification values possible with this technique were 6 micrograms per kilogram and 18 micrograms per kilogram, respectively. The accuracy of their technique was verified against dogfish liver certified reference material (DOLT-3 NRC) for trace metals, the team reports in the journal Food Chemistry.

Concentrating on arsenic

The team says that they found the highest total concentrations of arsenic in fish (152-439), rice (87-316) and rice-based products (52-201). However, when diet was considered, the primary contributors to inorganic arsenic intake were, the team points out, wheat flour, including its proportion in wheat flour-based products (breads, pasta and cookies), followed by rice; both foods account for close to 53% and 17% of the intake, respectively. While this might well be a problem, the estimated dietary intake of inorganic arsenic, some 10.7 micrograms per day was significantly lower than that obtained from contaminated drinking water in vast regions of Argentina.

Toxic shock

The researchers point out that most of our understanding of arsenic toxicity is founded on human exposure to contaminated drinking water that contains soluble, inorganic salts of As(III) and As(V). Regular consumption of such water can lead to skin, bladder and lung cancers and skin lesions. While As(V) is rapidly reduced following absorption to As(III), it is the subsequent formation of methylated arsenic metabolites (monomethylarsonic acid, MMA, and dimethylarsinic acid, DMA) in both trivalent and pentavalent oxidation states that are problematic having greater toxicity than the free arsenic ions. The formation of other organoarsenic compounds is important too. Nevertheless, the presence of arsenic in foodstuffs as well as drinking water obfuscates the true health burden and the mode of toxicity. "The present study proposes a reliable analytical methodology for the determination of total arsenic in food," and so adds a new approach to reducing the uncertainties. And, in this case, points to arsenic in food being a lesser problem than contaminated drinking water in this part of the world, at least.

Related Links

Food Chem 2016, online: "Total arsenic in selected food samples from Argentina: Estimation of their contribution to inorganic arsenic dietary intake"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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