Global Citizen Science: A Comparative Study of Arsenic in Rice Consumed in Haiti
Using an interdisciplinary, multi-method approach grounded in the concept of “citizen science” from a global perspective, we propose the first-ever rigorous comparative study of inorganic arsenic concentration in rice consumed in Haiti. In the past few decades, rice consumption in Haiti has tripled with rice accounting for >20% of the average total calories consumed each day. Underpinning this dramatic shift in diet is a surge of U.S. rice imports that began in 1995 when Haiti reduced its tariff on imported rice. Rice can contain inorganic arsenic, and concentrations are dependent on where rice is grown. Long-term exposure to arsenic has been associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, cardiovascular disease, and more. A small pilot study in Haiti by doctoral student Victoria Koski-Karell suggested that imported rice has higher concentrations of arsenic compared to locally-grown rice. For this project, Koski-Karell will be based in the rice-growing region of Saint-Marc, Haiti from February to October 2019. Koski-Karell will collect samples of several varieties of rice: Haitian rice grown in the Lower Artibonite Valley; U.S. imported commercial rice; and U.S imported donated rice. Samples will be sent back to the University of Michigan for arsenic analysis via Inductively-Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry. Field-based water sample testing will be conducted with community members to evaluate arsenic concentrations in irrigation and drinking water in Saint-Marc. Employing a citizen science approach, residents including local farmers will be involved in sample collection and in arsenic testing of water using portable kits. The research team will develop a risk communication plan to share results, their implications, and potential strategies moving forward to residents.
The research team will investigate multiple questions including but not limited to: Are concentrations of inorganic arsenic higher in Haitian-grown rice varieties or imported rice? Do arsenic concentrations in any rice variety exceed maximum recommended levels set to protect human health? What are the perceptions of residents with regards to health risks associated with domestically grown and U.S.-imported rice, if any? Based on what is learned from this study, what local strategies can be developed with the community to reduce exposure to arsenic? Long-term, we anticipate results will form the basis for grant applications to expand this work. Ultimately, we aim to provide empirical evidence for the quality of local versus imported rice in order to empower communities and policymakers to make informed decisions about the local food supply.