Arsenic in Rice Milk – Is This True?

This is the original post and see also for my three articles on the subject!

Thank you to those of you who pointed out the recent media story about arsenic being in rice milk. It seems the Food Standards Agency has issued a new guideline that babies and toddlers under four years old shouldn’t be given rice milk as it contains too much arsenic. Shocked, I have looked into it for you. First, a quick summary and then I have included the press release from the FSA, and finally a response from the makers of Rice Dream. Hope it helps.

My summary: It seems a lot of foods contain a natural level of arsenic and rice has an ability to store it slightly more from what I read. Most experts are saying there is no real danger as it is endemic in our environment and foods, but that because babies and toddlers tend to drink a lot of it per body weight, the possibility of having too much should be recognised. The  best approach seems to be to not to have too much and to vary different milks around ie. not be too reliant on rice generally at that age. Another example of saying what’s wrong with something, but not really much help to those little ones who can’t drink cow’s milk (or soya)! Don’t forget too that the body is very efficient at getting rid of metals like this as it is a normal part of our environment. That said, it should be limited and we always need to ensure the right vitamins and minerals are in place to achieve the detox process in the body. It’s just a problem when a little one has to have a lot of it. Perhaps we need to think of alternatives such as oat and a little soya milk if little ones can’t have cow’s milk and are too young for nut milk, and always buy organic rice products.

From the FSA Press Release: The Agency has today published results from two studies: arsenic levels in rice drinks and one on cooking methods to reduce arsenic levels in rice. As a result of the rice drink study, the Agency recommends that toddlers and young children should not have rice drinks, often known as rice milk, as a replacement for cows’ milk, breast milk or infant formula.The rice drink study followed concerns about results from a study published last year that measured arsenic levels in these types of drinks. The research published today examined 60 samples of rice drinks and found low levels of arsenic in all of them (see The science behind the story section below).

The level of total arsenic ranged from 0.010 – 0.034 milligram/kilogram and the levels of inorganic – the more harmful – form of arsenic ranged from 0.005 – 0.020 milligram/kilogram. The proportion of inorganic arsenic in the rice drink samples ranged from 48 – 63%. None of the results were over the current legal limit (but see the Current regulations section below).

In the second study, researchers looked at the effect of cooking methods on arsenic content of rice. The Agency is not advising anyone to change the way they cook rice as a result of this study as the impact on the overall dietary intake of arsenic from different cooking methods is minimal.

What the Agency advises

As a precaution, toddlers and young children between 1 and 4.5 years old should not have rice drinks as a replacement for cows’ milk, breast milk, or infant formula. This is because they will then drink a relatively large amount of it, and their intake of arsenic will be greater than that of older children and adults relative to their bodyweight. This is both on nutritional grounds and because such substitution can increase their intake of inorganic arsenic, which should be kept as low as possible. A daily half pint or 280 millilitres of rice drink could double the amount of the more harmful form of arsenic they consume each day.

There is no immediate risk to children who have been consuming rice drinks and it is unlikely that there would have been any long-term harmful effects but to reduce further exposure to arsenic parents should stop giving these drinks to toddlers and young children. If your child is allergic to cows’ milk, you are strongly advised to seek advice from your health professional or dietitian on suitable replacements. Other groups of people do not need to change their diet because their exposure to inorganic arsenic from rice drinks is lower relative to their bodyweight. Children under a year old should drink breast milk or infant formula milk. Cows’ milk or alternatives are not suitable as a drink until an infant is 12 months old.

The research published today does not affect the Agency’s advice on any other weaning foods. Advice from a survey in 2007, which included baby rice and other rice products, concluded that these foods did not have levels of inorganic arsenic that caused concern.

Further information:

For further information on this survey, please contact: arsenic_enquiries@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk.

The science behind the story

Arsenic is widely distributed in the environment. It occurs in soil, water – both sea and fresh – and in almost all plants and animal tissues. As a result, arsenic occurs naturally at very low levels in many foods and it is not possible to avoid it completely. How harmful the arsenic is depends on the chemical form in which it is present. The organic form is less harmful than the inorganic form which can cause cancer by harming our genetic material (DNA). Rice and rice products have higher levels of the inorganic form of arsenic compared with other food. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) (an independent scientific committee that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency) has concluded that people should consume as little of this form of arsenic as reasonably practicable.

Related links

Survey of metals in weaning foods and formulae for infants Read the Food Survey Information Sheet

Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09

See more background at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/fsis0209arsenicinrice.pdf

Rice Dream response:

“All Rice Dream and Lima products are significantly below the legal maximum limit for levels of arsenic in food products….They pose no risk to customers and this has been confirmed by tests conducted by the FSA and an independent laboratory.”

I shall keep you updated if anything else comes to light.

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56 thoughts on “Arsenic in Rice Milk – Is This True?

  1. I have been diagnosod with multiple sclerosis a year ago and been advised to cut out soya milk and dairy products, obviously cows milk. So to replace this i have been having ricedream. Arsenic surely, even small amounts could surely be dangerous to myself. Help.. what do i do

    • Hi Jodine, yes, it’s a difficult one, isn’t it? My advice would be to have a blood, urine or hair test to check out your current levels and then you know whether you need to be concerned and change your type of milk or habits or not. You could always swop to oat, almond, hazlenut, potato or other grain milks if you prefer. Hope that helps.

    • have an almond milk instead

    • Try coconut milk.

    • Joanne Mac Donald RHN

      have you read Wheat Belly? Dr Davis shows a direct path to all autoimmune disease and wheat consumption and backs it up with some pretty good research. I am sure there are other contributing factors as well but you may want to consider reading this excellent and entertaining book

  2. Hi Jodine, I notice that you have MS, and wonder if you have come across the idea of treating this with Helminthic Therapy. MS patients have been found to benefit from having a parasitic infection ( http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=61008 ) and Nottingham University is now running a trial in which they are giving a small dose of tiny worms to patients to assess their response ( http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/141010.php ).

    A number of people with MS have obtained worms themselves and have experienced considerable success as a result ( http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/helminthictherapy/message/3310 ). There’s more about all of this, with a list of links to further information at: http://www.foodsmatter.com/worms/general/articles/helminthic_therapy.html

    I don’t have MS myself but have ME, Crohn’s disease and severe multiple allergies/food intolerance, and began my own journey with worms when I took part in the Hookworm for Crohn’s Disease trial at Nottingham ( http://www.foodsmatter.com/worms/general/articles/appetite_worms.html ). I’ve had so much benefit from my little wrigglers that I wouldn’t ever be without them again, and I would certainly recommend them to anyone with MS, as they appear to arrest this condition, without any long term side effects, which can’t be said for any other currently available treatments.

  3. [...] I found another interesting article on Micki Rose’s blog which has some more links for further reading. “Arsenic in rice milk – is this true?” [...]

  4. I was really shocked to hear about rice milk containing arsenic, my two young children, now 4 and 6 have been on rice milk for nearly 4 years, used as a substitute for cows milk, as they have allergies to dairy, soya and nuts, and many other foods. cant imagine trying to get them used to another product, as i have so many problems introducing new foods.
    I can’t believe the doctors or nutritionist’s never warned me about this, does any one know whether this will have implications for their health in later life?

    • I know Paula, shocking isn’t it? I guess the FSA has actually put out the guidelines now for that very reason. Read the articles I have written on the subject to make sure you choose the safest rice products and rice from the safest countries – and learn make your own rice milk, which is actually much cheaper anyway! See my DIY Dairy piece.

  5. You stated “Don’t forget too that the body is very efficient at getting rid of metals like this as it is a normal part of our environment.”

    I just wanted to point out that that’s not necessarily true. If one is exposed to too many heavy metals, this can completely interfere and/or disrupt the body’s methylation cycle and sulfation as well (detoxification in the liver). Many kids with autism are found to have these detox issues, as well as people with CFS/ME, and MS.

    Thanks

    • Good point, thanks Kelly. I was trying not to be too alarmist and a bit encouraging because I was specifically talking about children, there I think, but you are right!

  6. I’m trying to find you DIY rice milk recipe you mentioned in your comments above as well as a link to the safest rice products and rice from the safest countries. Were you able to find out where Rice Dream ranks with regards to arsenic? That’s the milk my two young children have been drinking their whole lives (past breastfeeding). This is so scary but I have to tell you, I couldn’t be happier that I chose to nurse my kids for as long as I have since it has greatly limited their need to drink an excess amount of rice milk. Though now I’m even concerned about the levels they currently drink. Ugh. It’s always something!
    Thanks for posting.

    • Feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it, Shira! I will check and update the links in the post – FM have done a revamp and it looks like some have got lost, thanks for letting me know. If you read all three articles, it should answer all your questions.

    • I have same issues. My little guy will be two soon, I breast fed until he was 22 months and switched over to Rice Dream Rice milk. He has allergies to cows milk, soy, cocunut, almond and many other things. I am so glad I found this blog and site. It has been very helpful, but now have to figure out what we will do to limit or eliminate his rice milk. Did you find any other things that worked for you? THanks for your help!

      • Check his levels Crystal and then you maybe won’t need to totally eliminate it; he could be processing it out just fine. Have you tried the tiger nut milk – delicious and unusual so usually not an allergen to start off with. You do need to sweeten it but its lovely and rich? See the DIY Dairy article for how to make it. Hope that helps.

      • Thank you! I will get his levels checked.

  7. [...] hope that helps in your search for more info. Here is the original post [...]

  8. My advice to anyone considering a milk alternative, is to stick with what we all know; and thats dairy milk!
    Soya milk contains, well, soya that affects hormonal imbalance and the thyroid, almond milk also contains soya and rice milk contains unacceptable levels of inorganic arsenic that causes cancer.
    Man, you cant win. At least with cow’s milk we know what we are getting and although there are toxins present none can be as bad as soya or arsenic consumed on mass.
    I have consumed cow’s milk all my life and only suffer from hayfever and seasonal sinuses both of which i feel were brought on by dairy produce but i have coped with these ailments quite well.
    But to risk the alternative which could be cancer is a thought i dont wish to hold.
    It reminds me of an Echo And The Bunnymen song: Everything Kills You.

    Sad but true.

    • Hi Rush,

      Thanks for your comment, although obviously some people have far worse problems than hayfever and rhinitis from consuming cow’s milk, hence the need to find alternatives. If cow’s milk caused you colitis, disabling migraines, endometrial pain, a constant need to rush to the loo with diarrhoea, psoriasis etc, I have a feeling you would see that differently! I’m glad you don’t have any of those. As for almond milk containing soya, not sure where you’ve got that from, but it shouldn’t. Almond milk made correctly is just almonds and water. I would take my chances with soya and almond milk anytime over dairy milk especially with regard to cancer. As you say, though, having anything ‘en masse’ is not good, variety is the spice of life and all that so that’s why I advise people rotate different dairy alternatives as they are able. The simple fact is, though, that some people have intolerances to a lot of different foods and don’t always have the choice.

  9. Hi Micki /Everyone
    As some of you will know our little man is violently allergic to cow’s milk and a little less so to egg, soya, wheat, He’s also histamine and sulphite sensitive. Our story has us moving from breast milk at six months to:
    Formula – not good and then worse as we changed to a more substantial variant (we knew no better at this stage)
    To full fat cow’s milk – with dire consequences
    To soya based formula which was better – but not good – and then bad.
    Once we had Christopher’s positive to CMP and borderline allergy to Soya protein we changed again
    This time to Oat milk with marked and near miraculous benefits. Only once we had identified all other sources of reaction did we realise that he was still reacting at a low level to his oat milk which we have swapped for ‘Kara Dairy Free’ Coconut milk.
    I can’t recommend Kara highly enough and it has the lightest and most pleasant taste (unlike some other alternative milk) that we have found, it has a low chance of cross reactivity with CMP, Soya and gluten grains too. In all cases we used the calcium fortified variants of dairy alternatives as we are dealing with a toddler.
    I hope that this will help someone out there, if like us you have had a difficult time settling on a dairy alternative. Please though don’t be tempted to use rice milks for babies. As Micki has already said their low body weight to consumption can set up problems for later.

    • Thanks for that Mike – really useful to see, although such a shame you had to go through all that. I think the lack of real ‘official’ alternatives to cow’s milk formula is a travesty. I get asked very often what to recommend and you are seen as a pariah for suggesting anything other than the norm, even though you know to suggest otherwise is to continue to make that baby/toddler ill. Makes me so mad. Anyway, enough ranting.

      I have been trialling the Kara coconut milk myself recently – I am checking out some of the ingredients to make sure they are truly grain free (eg the phosphate and sucrose ester) but so far they have confirmed that the fruit juice used is from grape – yay – and I am waiting on the rest (2 months and counting actually, I shall chase them again!)!

      However, did you know how easy it is to make your own much cheaper version? I made some very successfully the other day by soaking some dessicated coconut (fresh would be even better but we don’t live in the tropics!) in filtered water and then blending it at high speed. I don’t mind it bitty, but you could strain it. If you want it sweeter, you could add a couple of organic dates, which also have a good amount of calcium – .59mg per 100g, or organic unsugared dried figs are even better – 126mg per 100g. To make coconut cream, in case anyone is interested for non-baby use, just use less milk and add a couple more dates. Easy peasy.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  10. Hi, a great informative article. Do you have any info on baby rice please? And I’m unsure whether rice dream organic is safe to use. My 19wk old daughter is currently completely off formula but has a bottle of oat milk with baby rice to thicken every night to help her drift off. The rest of her diet is fruit and veg 3 home made meals a day and plenty of water with fruit orange or lime squeezed in to help her constipation. She also has abidec vitamins every day. I am very interested in your coconut milk recipe and wonder if you have a good one for my daughter please? We haven’t had a allergy confirmed yet, but I’m assuming its dairy or lactose causing reallY bad excema on her cheeks only. Even without all dairy the excema has calmed down but not completetly gone! Its been nearly two weeks so far. Any help would be so much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Rochelle, Thanks for stopping by and for your comment; I’m glad you found it useful. Any food with rice in it has to be suspect. I believe I have mentioned both baby rice and the response from Rice Dream makers in the articles so that should help there. It is difficult to give specific patient advice over this medium but please feel free to contact me direct if you need to. Re eczema, what I can say is that I have never yet seen a case of baby/toddler eczema that didn’t involve dairy. My guess is that she is still consuming some hidden somewhere (are you eating it yourself and breastfeeding, for example?) and also that you need more time. In most cases it takes a minimum of 2 weeks for it to come completely out of the system, but even the tiniest hidden amount will scupper your efforts. Hope that helps. Good luck.

  11. I realize that I’m super late in the game… but I stumbled across your blog today. As a person who doesn’t drink cow’s milk and doesn’t like the hormone burden of soy (always made me bloated), I have been drinking organic rice milk for years (it has always been the most palatable to me). And all the way through my pregnancy. My daughter is 5 months old. Has there been any study of consequences for the baby if the mother drank it? Or in the case of breastfeeding? Should I throw it all out right now?? I’m a wee bit panicked! Thanks and I really appreciate your blog!
    Barbara

    • Don’t panic Barbara, and thanks for stopping by. This is a difficult one isn’t it? I am not aware of any direct studies, but we do know that things pass into the placenta and via breast milk. Baby should be able to process it out if any comes through. My advice would be not to worry about it, to make sure your baby has enough of the right nutrients and bowel flora to ensure heavy metal detox and, when older, perhaps double check for any remaining heavy metals with a hair test. For you, a hair test is a good double-check too, and look at other alternatives like coconut milk maybe. Hope that helps. Not meaning to scare anyone: don’t shoot the messenger!

  12. Hi,
    Thanks for the info.
    My boy has been drinking rice milk for the past few months since we stopped nursing at 2 (he’s now 2.4yrs) and I have just been made aware of arsenic link.
    After a lot of reading, I’m finding it really is difficult to make an informed decision as to how ‘real’ this risk is, when it seems there is already arsenic in a lot of the foods we eat. I’m wondering what the japanese do when their diet is so much reliant on rice?
    Is there a worry then about ALL rice products, not just rice milk, and surely the organic rice milk should be ok, you’d hope, or they would’n’t be able to sell it as organic??
    Thanks again,
    Terri

  13. Another question I had is why is there inorganic arsenic in rice milk? Where does the inorganic form come from to get into the rice in the first place? thanks again, Terri

    • Hi Terri, it is a bit shocking isn’t it? If you read all 3 articles, they should answer your questions. Inorganic arsenic is present in the soils. Foods can be called organic as they have not added it to the product, it is just there. name of the game is variety and moderation, I advise not to become too reliant on rice products as you see in the second article where I have given some practical advice. Hope that helps. Don’t worry overly and, if in doubt, test levels as I mention. Good luck.

  14. Hi! Im a bit late finding this out! But….Did anyone mention coconut milk? It is creamy and delicious! Also, it is very easy to make almond milk and this way you keep the living enzymes! I personally do not drink a “glass full” of any type of milk substitute. I use rice milk to lighten my red tea or Teeccino. Children can get their calcium from juicing raw veggies such as carrot and broccoli. No need to drink any substitutes at all. Use the Rice milk for baking and the occasional bowl of cereal and Im sure that will be well below safe levels! I have a cookbook out with a yummy almond milk recipe along with my testimony of hope and healing…..if anyone is interested! :o) http://www.createspace.com/3494411

  15. [...] Arsenic in Rice Milk – Is This True? Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  16. [...] Another confirmation of the rice in arsenic issue that I have written about several times, starting here: Arsenic in Rice Milk – is this true?. [...]

  17. Try cows milk from Guernsey milk cows. Many people that
    can’t drink standard cow milk can drink this because the
    protein makeup is a bit different.

    Also, goat milk has always been the suggested milk for
    children that can’t digest cows milk. Goat milk is easier
    to digest, and again, has a different protein makeup that
    doesn’t usually cause sensitivity problems.

    Soy milk is not a good idea for babies. It has a very
    powerful estrogenic effect. And other problems. Not
    a good idea for babies. Besides, most of it is GMO
    these days. Best not to make your baby a guinea pig
    experiment. GOOGLE these 2 words:

    soybean estrogen

    And check out this article to see what I mean about how
    soybeans can affect your hormones:

    http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/soys-negative-effects

    • It’s a difficult one, isn’t it, Eugene? I think most of the problems come from eating GM soya and the jury is still out about soya’s oestrogenic effects. My view is that we should not eat tons of it, but in moderation it can be OK, as in all things.

      Soya actually does have a weak oestrogenic effect and, in certain circumstances, menopause, for example, that can be helpful because it boosts flagging oestrogen levels. It is also said that the weak soya oestrogens can compete with some of the strong oestrogens which are linked to breast cancer and other oestrogen-dominant problems. In those cases, I would rather have a weak oestrogen docking in the receptor than a strong harmful oestrogen. People think there is only one oestrogen, but there are several, and the balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is crucial.

      For children, as I have said before, a variety of milks is best, not dominance of any one single milk, although that becomes more difficult the more sensitivities the child has, obviously.

      Interesting point about Guernsey milk. I, for one, think dairy is dairy is dairy and it will only be a matter of time before the person becomes sensitive to the other types. Dairy milk is for calves – and hideously high in growth hormones meant for them, not us. Some experts think that growth hormone is behind the obesity and cancer epidemics we find ourselves in. If we take in growth hormone like that, we grow – in stature and tumours. Makes sense to me.

      • I want to make one comment on soy. In small quantities, it is fine, especially for most women. However, vegans and such should be more careful, especially men, for I have known men who consume so much soy that they start having hormonal effects, similar to women. However, the same is true for ginseng. Women need to be very careful how much they take because it is a testosterone producer. I know this from personal experience because I used to take it for energy, then developed aggression, irritability, facial and chest hair. Seriously not a good thing. Thankfully as soon as I stopped so did the symptoms.

        Just wanted to comment. Thank you.

      • Thanks Celestina, and thanks for taking the time to give us a useful insight there. I presume you are referring to Panax Ginseng rather than Siberian there? Panax is traditionally for men, Siberian for women. Siberian is an adaptogen and much gentler – fabulous for energy and stress. Panax is just not suited to women unless used very short-term in my experience, so perhaps that is the reason. I remember when me and my staff worked at Holland & Barrett, we used to take liquid Panax ginseng over the Christmas rush to keep us going! Short term boost. Guarana worked too as I recall – it’s high in caffeine.

      • To clarify on my comment, not everyone reacts to things the same way. Each person’s body has its own sensitivities. So listen to your body first, and don’t over do any one thing.

        I also want to make one other comment. Dairy is becoming more of a problem for people to digest, yet for centuries it was consumed raw with what side effects. Now it is illegal to sell it raw, while I, my parents and grandparents all consumed it most of our lives raw with no side effects.

        Garlic is a natural antibiotic and immune booster, and yet it can naturally have small amounts of salmonella bacteria growing on it. Could this be to naturally boost our immunity to this deadly bacteria that causes food poisoning?

        Eggs were for years considered bad for you because of the cholesterol in the yolks, yet now those yolks have been found to have even more lecithin, which breaks down cholesterol.

        Could there be something in rice, naturally grown, not genetically tampered with, that may help the body eliminate arsenic? Just wondering….

        I

      • Good idea, Celestina, very probably. Nature usually gives us the solution, doesn’t she?

  18. Hi I am so grateful I found your weblog, I really found you by accident, while I was searching on Digg for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like
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  19. My son was born extremely premature, he had lot of medical problems, and was unable to eat solids until age 4. He drank lots of rice milk with flax seed oil, cod liver oil, and other supplements while he went to the feeding center for his oral motor problems. He has dyspraxia, and is high functioning, Do you think the rice milk has harmed any of his internal organs? I am really worried as he drank this constantly.

  20. I doubt it, Susan, so don’t add to your worries; the supplements and oils he was taking would have helped him enormously. If it were me, I would do a hair test to check his arsenic levels and then you can see at least what he has now. Hope that helps.

  21. [...] can also see my other posts here, here and here. And don’t forget to read through the comments on those posts – lots of [...]

  22. HI. AT what age is it ok to give a child any kind of nut milk? Will this be ok for children with eczema? I have just taken milk and yogurts out of my 2 and half yr olds diet in an attempt to improve her skin condition. SHe has taken to rice milk once or twice a day but also loves eating rice so now I’m worried about her having too much and missing out on other nutrients.
    Thanks,
    Hannah.

  23. Hi Hannah, The official UK guideline says this:

    “If you choose to start giving your baby solid foods before six months (after talking to your health visitor or GP), don’t give them any peanuts, other nuts (such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts etc.), seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, or foods containing these ingredients until after six months of age. This is because these foods can sometimes trigger development of a food allergy.”

    and:

    “Whole peanuts or whole nuts should never be given to children under five because of the risk of choking.”
    http://www.food.gov.uk/policy-advice/allergyintol/peanutspregnancy#.UGG4mo2PXVY

  24. In turning to a vider variety of non-dairy “milks” it’s good to read the ingredients because many rice milk alternatives contain rice syrup. Checking yesterday at a local store, I found that for my child, who can’t have soy or almonds, only coconut milk, hemp milk and a new brand of sunflower milk were free of rice products.

  25. Thanks for your blog. Just wanted to mention….Aspertame in diet drinks have been known to cause MS like symtoms. I have read where people have taken their children away from tv, video games, etc. and their adhd problems/symptoms faded away. I’m going to get a hair analysis to see what toxins I may have.

    • Thanks Marc, I think there are loads of factors that can be involved can’t there and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised about the aspartame or the electro-sensitivity. Good reminders, thanks. Good luck with your hair analysis.

  26. I have been drinking rice dream for maybe 16 years. My children have been drinking it for about that long too. If my toxin levels are high, then I’ll know what I need to do.

  27. I am really late in knowing about arsenic in rice milk. My four year old daughter and myself have been drinking quite a lot of it over the last 2 years. I am really worried and wanted to get her tested to see what levels of arsenic are in her body. My Dr however only offered the urine tests which only shows exposure over the last week or so…Not very helpful. Any ideas on what to do once you find out you have high levels in your body? They said they do not know how to treat it or test for it! It is CRAZY! Thank you for any other helpful information!

  28. Thank you so very much…Very helpful!!

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