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In a rice field in Cambodia, Yasmine Farhat, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, practices collecting soil for future analysis of arsenic and zinc content.
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In a rice field in Cambodia, Yasmine Farhat, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, practices collecting soil for future analysis of arsenic and zinc content.
Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

Rice has higher arsenic levels because of climate change, Seattle researchers find

The list of foods affected by climate change is growing. A new University of Washington study has found that rising temperatures will increase arsenic levels in rice.

Rice is good at absorbing arsenic. The plant’s system is like a straw that draws water. Rice is grown in flooded fields. Flooding also releases arsenic and other minerals into the soil.

“It’s a perfect storm for accumulation of arsenic in rice,” said Yasmine Farhat, a UW doctoral student and co-author of the study. She and her colleagues grew rice in different climate controlled chambers at varying temperatures. What they found was the warmer the temperature, the more arsenic was absorbed.

“We saw increase in arsenic in the water that is surrounding the plant roots,” said Farhat. “We saw it in the green leafy tissue of the plant, and finally, we can see it in the grain tissue as well.”

This doesn’t mean it’s time to give up rice.

Farhat says the good news is Americans in general don’t eat as much rice so we’re not exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic. For half of the world, though, rice is a major staple. Farhat says as the planet continues to warm, more work will be needed to find ways to reduce the risks.