(CBS NEWS) -- New Jersey researchers say they have discovered potentially dangerous
levels of lead in white rice imported to the United States from across
Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, an environmental chemistry
professor at Monmouth University, said his team's findings are
especially concerning for Asian-Americans who eat large amounts of rice,
and infants and children who are more sensitive to lead's effects.
findings present a situation that is particularly worrisome given that
infants and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead
poisoning," Tongesayi said in a statement.
"For infants and children, the daily exposure levels from eating the
rice products analyzed in this study would be 30-60 times higher than
the FDA's provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels."
team analyzed rice samples imported from Asia, Europe and South
America. They found the rice contained between 6 to 12 milligrams per
kilogram of lead, surpassing the FDA's allowable levels.
highest amount of lead was found in rice imported from Taiwan and China.
Rice from the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India and Thailand also
had significantly high lead levels, the researchers said.
living in the United States tend to consume more rice, Tongesayi pointed
out, and their analysis estimated lead exposure in such children can be
anywhere between 60 and 120 times higher than the FDA's PTTI levels.
adults, lead exposure from daily intake of imported rice is about 20 to
40 times higher than the FDA's tolerable levels, the study found.
Tongesayi told TIME
the findings may be underestimates, since the team based their
calculations on daily recommended servings of rice, when people likely
eat more than what's recommended in a given week.
rice makes up about 7 percent of the U.S. supply, the researchers
estimated. While the U.S. is a major rice producer, the researchers
noted that imports of rice and rice flour have increased by more than
200 percent since 1999. People across the world may be at risk too,
given 3 billion people consume rice as a staple in their diets, they
The research is ongoing, and considered preliminary since
it was presented at a medical conference and not published in a
peer-reviewed journal. Tests are currently under way for rice samples
from Pakistan, Brazil and other countries.
Even small levels of lead over time can harm a child's mental development, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Lead is more harmful to kids than adults because it interacts with the
developing nervous system and brain. The younger the child, the more
harmful lead exposure can be, the NIH added.
Complications include behavioral problems, IQ deficits, hearing problems, kidney damage and stunted body growth.
This isn't the first chemical of concern that's been found in rice.
Several studies, including a September 2012 analysis by Consumer Reports
of 200 rice products sold in the U.S., found potentially high levels of
inorganic arsenic, which may be toxic and pose a cancer risk.
you look through the scientific literature, especially on India and
China, they irrigate their crops with raw sewage effluent and untreated
industrial effluent," Tongesayi told the BBC.
"Research has been done in those countries, and concerns have been raised because of those practices, but it's still ongoing."
The FDA did not respond to a CBSNews.com request for comment at press time.
spokesperson reportedly told the BBC, that the agency "plans to review
the new research on lead levels in imported rice released today" and
proactively monitors contaminant levels in foods sold internationally.