Arsenic found in infant formula, cereal bars

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Flickr/egg on stilts

(CBS) Is arsenic in your breakfast? A new study suggests that might just be what you - or your children - are having each morning.

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Researchers at Dartmouth College already knew that rice can be a major source of inorganic arsenic. This includes rice products, such as organic brown rice syrup, an alternative sweetener to high fructose corn syrup. Exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic over time has been tied to increased risk for cancer.

For the study - published in the Feb. 16 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives - the researchers investigated levels of arsenic in commercially available brown rice syrups, and in products containing the syrups, including infant formula, cereal and energy bars, and high energy foods used by endurance athletes.

What did they find? Surprising levels of arsenic in these products containing organic brown rice syrup.

Out of 17 infant formulas tested, 15 did not contain organic brown rice syrups - and had relatively low levels of arsenic. As for the two formulas that listed organic brown rice syrup as the primary ingredient - those contained 20 times as much arsenic as ones without the rice ingredient. One had a total arsenic concentration that was six times the federal limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic in bottled or public drinking water.

Out of 29 cereal or energy bars tested, 22 contained at least one rice product in the top five ingredients. The seven that didn't had the lowest levels of arsenic, while those that did contained levels of arsenic ranging from 23 to 128 ppb. The energy shots contained between 84 and 171 ppb arsenic.

Study author Dr. Brian Jackson, an environmental chemistry researcher at  Dartmouth's Superfund Research Program, told Consumer Reports, " I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children's exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown rice syrup is the main ingredient."

There are currently no U.S. regulations for arsenic in food. But the new study shows some food products bring significant amounts of arsenic to an individual's diet, so researchers conclude "there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on [arsenic] in food."

This study isn't the first to put arsenic in the spotlight. Levels of arsenic have previously been found in apple and grape juice.