Arsenic is a natural substance, and its place is on the periodic table as a heavy metal along with elements like lead or cadmium. Its toxic properties have long been known. Arsenical poisoning was the topic of many mysteries from classic writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers – and also the subject of many famous murder trials dating back at least to Victorian England.
What many people do not realize, however, is that arsenic also has many commercial uses. It is used in industry and big agri-business and can wind up in many products like rice, conventionally raised poultry, farmed fish and even well water. Read on to find out more about arsenic – and what can be done to limit exposure to it.
More on Arsenic
Like other heavy metals, arsenic is not just a poison – it is a known carcinogen as well, which means it can cause changes in the cells that can eventually lead to cancer. As a matter of fact, studies over the years have linked it definitely to cancer of bladder, kidneys, lungs and skin and most probably also to cancer of the colon, prostate and liver, though the evidence for that is not quite as conclusive. Apart from this, even if it does not lead to cancer, it can cause serious, long-term health problems due to its toxicity.
Unfortunately, there are a variety of ways in which arsenic contamination can happen. Some of the most common ways are through white or brown rice (if the water pumped into the rice fields has come through pipes which are contaminated) or rice products (including rice cereal and rice milk) as well as well water (if the soil around the well has become contaminated). Farmed fish and concentrated chicken farming industries also produce foods that are contaminated with arsenic and this can lead to human exposure if these products are consumed.
How to Limit Exposure
Fortunately, there are some ways in which people can limit their exposure to this toxic metal. To begin with, it is important, when drinking well water, to have that well tested periodically. Testing it just once it not enough: something could happen to it or it could become contaminated with arsenic or other toxins from groundwater or runoff in the meantime. Also, try to eat wild caught rather than farmed fish, as this greatly reduces the chances of exposure to arsenic (though beware: mercury can still be an issue!). Buying organic (and preferably free range) chicken is also a good way to prevent exposure. Rice is tricky, as even organic rice can contain arsenic: it is best to cut down on rice consumption altogether and to explore alternative grains like quinoa.
In short, there are many ways in which people can become exposed to this cancer-causing heavy metal. However, there are also ways, such as those mentioned above, that people can protect themselves and limit their exposure – and thus lower the chances of cancer development.
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