August 4, 2014
Arsenic (As) can exist in the environment in several different forms, each having unique chemical characteristics that influence its toxicity and potential for human and ecological exposure. Within the last decade or so, the focus on speciated As (both the inorganic and organic forms) and its potential toxicity has led to an increased availability of data on speciated As in different food types. To gain an understanding of these developments and the current science, we evaluated the state of knowledge regarding As speciation in food and calculated the average levels of several species of As measured in food. Because inorganic arsenic (inAs) is considered the most toxicologically important form of As, we focused our analysis on papers presenting information on total inAs and speciated inAs (inAs3 + or inAs5 +). We also evaluated speciated As forms (e.g., monomethylarsonic and dimethylarsinic acid) when presented with inAs information. Publications were drawn from the peer-reviewed literature and reports by authoritative health agencies. While a great deal of speciation data were identified, including over 6500 unique inAs data points, unclear study methodology and inconsistencies between studies introduced uncertainty into the analysis of these data. Despite these limitations, our analysis demonstrates that inAs in foods can vary widely by type and even by sample, with mean inAs concentrations ranging from undetectable (in milk) to 11,000 μg/kg (in seaweed/algae). We found a high percentage of non-measurable As in many food types, suggesting that the limits of detection of speciated As must be considered to accurately estimate dietary As exposure. The applicability of our analysis is limited by the inconsistencies and uncertainties in the available data; calculations of inAs dietary intake should be tailored to the study population of interest and should consider study quality.