Just updated the Iodine page of VeganHealth.org regarding arsenic in kelp supplements:
“Most iodine supplements are simply tablets made from kelp. Being a seaweed, kelp likely contains at least small amounts of arsenic. There are some very rare cases in which people taking kelp supplements have developed symptoms of arsenic toxicity (8). A survey of kelp supplements in the U.S. found that eight out of nine batches contained some level of arsenic (8). Another survey in the UK of imported seaweed found very little arsenic in kelp, and no detectible amounts of inorganic arsenic, which is the harmful type (9).
“It is very unlikely that, taken at recommended amounts of 150 µg every other day, arsenic toxicity is likely to occur from kelp supplements. However, if you are concerned, at least one company makes iodine tablets that appear not to come from kelp: Nature’s Plus Potassium Iodide.”
Some additional notes:
The highest level of arsenic found in U.S. supplements was 34.8 mg/kg (8). My iodine supplement contains 225 µg of iodine in 45 mg of kelp. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has set a tolerable intake of 15 mg/kg of body weight per week (9). For a 140 pound person, that would be 953 mg per week. Supplementing three times per week with the tablets I have, at the highest toxicity level found, arsenic exposure would still be less than 5 mg per week, well below the 925 mg level.
Wakame, kombu, and arame are all types of kelp.
8. Amster E, Tiwary A, Schenker MB. Case report: potential arsenic toxicosis secondary to herbal kelp supplement. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Apr;115(4):606-8. Epub 2007 Jan 18. | Link | Follow-up letters to the editor.
9. Rose M, Lewis J, Langford N, Baxter M, Origgi S, Barber M, MacBain H, Thomas K. Arsenic in seaweed–forms, concentration and dietary exposure. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Jul;45(7):1263-7. | Link