Poultry Consumption and Arsenic Exposure in the U.S. Population

Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Mar;125(3):370-377. doi: 10.1289/EHP351. Epub 2016 Oct 13.


Background: Arsenicals (roxarsone and nitarsone) used in poultry production likely increase inorganic arsenic (iAs), monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), dimethylarsinic acid (DMA), and roxarsone or nitarsone concentrations in poultry meat. However, the association between poultry intake and exposure to these arsenic species, as reflected in elevated urinary arsenic concentrations, is unknown.

Objectives: Our aim was to evaluate the association between 24-hr dietary recall of poultry consumption and arsenic exposure in the U.S. population. We hypothesized first, that poultry intake would be associated with higher urine arsenic concentrations and second, that the association between turkey intake and increased urine arsenic concentrations would be modified by season, reflecting seasonal use of nitarsone.

Methods: We evaluated 3,329 participants ≥ 6 years old from the 2003-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) with urine arsenic available and undetectable urine arsenobetaine levels. Geometric mean ratios (GMR) of urine total arsenic and DMA were compared across increasing levels of poultry intake.

Results: After adjustment, participants in the highest quartile of poultry consumption had urine total arsenic 1.12 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.22) and DMA 1.13 (95% CI: 1.06, 1.20) times higher than nonconsumers. During the fall/winter, participants in the highest quartile of turkey intake had urine total arsenic and DMA 1.17 (95% CI: 0.99, 1.39; p-trend = 0.02) and 1.13 (95% CI: 0.99, 1.30; p-trend = 0.03) times higher, respectively, than nonconsumers. Consumption of turkey during the past 24 hr was not associated with total arsenic or DMA during the spring/summer.

Conclusions: Poultry intake was associated with increased urine total arsenic and DMA in NHANES 2003-2010, reflecting arsenic exposure. Seasonally stratified analyses by poultry type provide strong suggestive evidence that the historical use of arsenic-based poultry drugs contributed to arsenic exposure in the U.S.

Citation: Nigra AE, Nachman KE, Love DC, Grau-Perez M, Navas-Acien A. 2017. Poultry consumption and arsenic exposure in the U.S. Environ Health Perspect 125:370-377; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP351.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Arsenicals / analysis*
  • Cacodylic Acid / urine
  • Child
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Food Contamination / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Poultry
  • Young Adult


  • Arsenicals
  • Cacodylic Acid
  • nitarsone
  • Arsenic