Last updated on 27 July 2004
Arsenic in seaweed
Food Survey Information Sheet 61/04
The Food Standards Agency has completed a survey of total and inorganic arsenic in five varieties of imported seaweed. Results from this survey showed that one seaweed variety, hijiki, contains a significant level of inorganic arsenic, which is known to add to the risk of people getting cancer if it is regularly consumed. Arsenic is present in food in various chemical forms, with inorganic forms being the most toxic. Most arsenic in the diet is present in the less harmful organic forms.
Key facts of the survey
The key facts of this survey are:
- The survey was commissioned following a report that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was advising consumers to avoid the consumption of hijiki seaweed due to its high inorganic arsenic content.
- Concentrations of total and inorganic arsenic were measured in a total of 31 samples covering five varieties of seaweed (arame, hijiki, kombu, nori and wakame) found in a range of outlets in the London area. A list of the samples is provided in Table 1, below. Analysis was carried out by the Central Science Laboratory, Sand Hutton, York.
- Seaweed is generally sold in dried form. Where preparation by soaking was recommended prior to consumption, measurements were carried out on both the initial and prepared forms and on the water collected after soaking.
- Arsenic was detected in all samples. In most cases it was present in organic forms, which are not thought to represent a significant risk to health. Inorganic arsenic, a form that can cause cancer, was only detected in the nine samples of hijiki seaweed analysed. All of the results of the tests are shown in Table 2 from the link below.
- Consumption of hijiki seaweed would significantly increase daily dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic. Consumers are therefore advised not to eat hijiki seaweed.