Why is arsenic bad for babies and children?

Young children have very small bodies and eat more food per pound of body weight than adults as they grow. As a result, they get more arsenic from food or drinks compared to adults. For babies and kids, studies have shown that having arsenic in their bodies over time can lead to:

  • Lower IQ
  • Impaired brain development
  • Growth problems
  • Breathing problems
  • An unhealthy immune system
  • Cancer as an adult

If you're pregnant, your baby could be exposed to arsenic too. Arsenic can cross the placenta, which means that a pregnant woman's arsenic exposure through food and water may affect her baby's growth and development or lead to health problems later on in his or her life.

Arsenic is a greater concern for children since they eat about three times more food per pound of body weight than adults.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Drink Safe Water

  • If you have a private well, test your water for arsenic. If your well has arsenic, switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking immediately and learn about your options for getting arsenic out of your drinking water.
  • If you're worried about arsenic in your drinking water, use bottled water to mix your baby formula until you are sure your home water supply is safe.

Diet Choices

  • Talk to your doctor about breast-feeding your infant or toddler. Studies have found lower levels of arsenic in breast milk than in infant formula.
  • If you choose formula for your baby, find one that isn't made with rice or rice products and avoid those with brown rice syrup listed as an ingredient.
  • Avoid rice milk for babies and young children.
  • Feed your baby solid foods besides rice. Try oat, barley, or multigrain but check with your doctor first.
  • Limit how much fruit juice your child drinks. Even better, give your child whole fruits instead. Drinking a lot of juice can be bad for health and teeth.
  • Check with your pediatrician to make a list of healthy and low-arsenic food choices.
  • Eat a varied diet.

Be Proactive

  • Make sure to teach your kids to wash their hands after playing outside.
  • Learn more about children's environmental health.
  • Learn about your biggest sources of arsenic, your total arsenic exposure and take action to reduce arsenic in your world as much as possible.

What Foods Should I Be Concerned About For My Child?

Some foods have more arsenic than others. Examples include:

  • Rice cereal
  • Rice snacks
  • Rice milk
  • Baby formula made with rice
  • Foods with organic brown rice syrup
  • Apple juice

How Do I Know How Much Arsenic is in the Foods I Give My Child?

It's best to reduce or avoid these foods if you can. When you go to the grocery store, you won't see labels on foods saying how much arsenic is in them. In the U.S., there are no laws about labels or limits on arsenic in foods.


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How can you reduce arsenic for your children?

Water

If you have a private well, test your water for arsenic. If your well contains arsenic at or above 10 parts per billion:

  • Switch to bottled water right away.
  • Install a treatment system, join a public water supply, or dig a new well.
    • If you're pregnant, or if you have young kids, look for a treatment system that lowers arsenic levels to close to zero.
    • Some treatment systems remove arsenic from just a single tap, like your kitchen sink. If you choose that system, make sure your kids don't swallow water while bathing or brushing their teeth.

Baby formula

Studies have shown that breastfed babies receive better nutrition and have lower exposure to arsenic than babies who are given formula. If your baby drinks formula, check to see if it contains rice or brown rice syrup and choose a brand that does not contain these ingredients. Or, check with your pediatrician first, and then choose a formula made from cow's milk or soy. Always use water with little to no arsenic to mix it. If you are not sure your water has zero arsenic then bottled water is the safest option.

Rice and rice products

Rice and rice products are in many baby foods and drinks. Rice cereal is a common first food, but other foods work just as well.

Consider alternative first foods without rice like oatmeal, barley or multigrain, millet, veggie purees, sweet potatoes, finely chopped meat and check with your doctor.

Rice milk

Babies and young kids shouldn't drink rice drinks. If your child can't drink cow's milk, choose:

  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk

Fruit juice

Some fruit juices, particularly apple and pear, can have arsenic in them, so limit the amount of juice your child drinks to avoid the possibility of arsenic exposure and to reduce risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Whole fruit is a better option.

Eat a varied diet

Eating a varied diet is an important way to decrease a child's exposure to toxins in any one food. Serving a wide range of foods provides a variety of nutrients to support healthy growth and development. While rice can be a part of a child's balanced diet, make sure to include other grains such as oats, barley, wheat and corn. Check with your pediatrician to make a list of healthy and low-arsenic food choices.

Soil

Soils in some parts of the country contain high levels of arsenic. Try to keep children from eating dirt when they play outside. Because fruits and vegetables can have soil on them, be sure to always wash them before eating or cooking.

Wood

Old wood playground equipment, decks, and picnic tables can sometimes have arsenic on them from a chemical that was used to pressure-treat wood. Make sure your kids wash their hands after playing outside. The best way to keep your kids safe from arsenic on wood that you own is to apply a sealant every two years if the wood contains the chemical.

"Take action to reduce arsenic if you're a pregnant woman, or have kids. Arsenic is harmful to child growth, development and brain function. Kids consume more food and water per pound of body weight, so they are more likely than other age groups to be exposed to too much arsenic." Dr. Carolyn Murray, Dartmouth College

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