Nitarsone, Inorganic Arsenic, and Other Arsenic Species in Turkey Meat: Exposure and Risk Assessment Based on a 2014 U.S. Market Basket Sample

Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Mar;125(3):363-369. doi: 10.1289/EHP225. Epub 2016 Oct 13.


Background: Use of nitarsone, an arsenic-based poultry drug, may result in dietary exposures to inorganic arsenic (iAs) and other arsenic species. Nitarsone was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2015, but its use in other countries may continue.

Objectives: We characterized the impact of nitarsone use on arsenic species in turkey meat and arsenic exposures among turkey consumers, and we estimated cancer risk increases from consuming turkey treated with nitarsone before its 2015 U.S. withdrawal.

Methods: Turkey from three cities was analyzed for total arsenic, iAs, methylarsonate (MA), dimethylarsinate, and nitarsone, which were compared across label type and month of purchase. Turkey consumption was estimated from NHANES data to estimate daily arsenic exposures for adults and children 4-30 months of age and cancer risks among adult consumers.

Results: Turkey meat from conventional producers not prohibiting nitarsone use showed increased mean levels of iAs (0.64 μg/kg) and MA (5.27 μg/kg) compared with antibiotic-free and organic meat (0.39 μg/kg and 1.54 μg/kg, respectively) and meat from conventional producers prohibiting nitarsone use (0.33 μg/kg and 0.28 μg/kg, respectively). Samples with measurable nitarsone had the highest mean iAs and MA (0.92 μg/kg and 10.96 μg/kg, respectively). Nitarsone was higher in October samples than in March samples, possibly resulting from increased summer use. Based on mean iAs concentrations in samples from conventional producers with no known policy versus policies prohibiting nitarsone, estimated lifetime daily consumption by an 80-kg adult, and a recently proposed cancer slope factor, we estimated that use of nitarsone by all turkey producers would result in 3.1 additional cases of bladder or lung cancer per 1,000,000 consumers.

Conclusions: Nitarsone use can expose turkey consumers to iAs and MA. The results of our study support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's removal of nitarsone from the U.S. market and further support its removal from the global marketplace. Citation: Nachman KE, Love DC, Baron PA, Nigra AE, Murko M, Raber G, Francesconi KA, Navas-Acien A. 2017. Nitarsone, inorganic arsenic, and other arsenic species in turkey meat: exposure and risk assessment based on a 2014 U.S. market basket sample. Environ Health Perspect 125:363-369;

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenicals / analysis*
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States


  • Arsenicals
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • nitarsone
  • Arsenic