A broad view of arsenic

Poult Sci. 2007 Jan;86(1):2-14. doi: 10.1093/ps/86.1.2.


In the mind of the general public, the words "arsenic" and "poison" have become almost synonymous. Yet, As is a natural metallic element found in low concentrations in virtually every part of the environment, including foods. Mining and smelting activities are closely associated with As, and the largest occurrence of As contamination in the United States is near the gold mines of northern Nevada. Inhabitants of Bangladesh and surrounding areas have been exposed to water that is naturally and heavily contaminated with As, causing what the World Health Organization has described as the worst mass poisoning in history. Although readily absorbed by humans, most inorganic As (>90%) is rapidly cleared from the blood with a half-life of 1 to 2 h, and 40 to 70% of the As intake is absorbed, metabolized, and excreted within 48 h. Arsenic does not appreciably bioaccumulate, nor does it biomagnify in the food chain. The United States has for some time purchased more As than any other country in the world, but As usage is waning, and further reductions appear likely. Arsenic is used in a wide variety of industrial applications, from computers to fireworks. All feed additives used in US poultry feeds must meet the strict requirements of the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (Rockville, MD) before use. Although some public health investigators have identified poultry products as a potentially significant source of total As exposure for Americans, studies consistently demonstrate that <1% of samples tested are above the 0.5 ppm limit established by the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine. Although laboratory studies have demonstrated the possibility that As in poultry litter could pollute ground waters, million of tons of litter have been applied to the land, and no link has been established between litter application and As contamination of ground water. Yet, the fact that <2% of the United States population is involved in production agriculture and the overtones associated with the word "arsenic" could mean the matter becomes a perception issue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Arsenic* / analysis
  • Arsenic* / pharmacology
  • Arsenic* / toxicity
  • Environmental Pollutants* / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants* / pharmacology
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Mining


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Arsenic