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Human Health Risk Linked to Arsenic Additive in Chicken Feed

In a follow-up study tracing the effects of arsenic additive to chicken feed, new research shows a potential risk for human disease. The arsenic compound, roxarsone, promotes the growth of blood vessels in human cell lines, which is a critical step in many diseases including cancer, said Dr. Partha Basu, corresponding author of the study and associate professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department at Duquesne University.

The effect of the roxarsone on those who eat chicken is still undetermined, but farm workers would be likely to inhale roxarsone dust on an ongoing basis, Basu said. The arsenic additive, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is intended to kill parasites and increase the weight and pigmentation of chickens.

“This is a significant finding as it relates to potential human health effect from roxarsone,” said Basu, who worked on the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences-supported study with scientists from Thermo Fisher and the University of Pittsburgh. The study, which is published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first study of this type to focus on human issues.

An initial study by Basu and Duquesne biology professor Dr. John Stolz, released last spring, showed that roxarsone, an organic form of arsenic, made a quicker-than-expected transformation to a more common inorganic arsenic that could leach into water supplies. While that study focused on environmental dangers from roxarsone, it did not broach the topic of possible human health effects. Basu knows of no subsequent studies besides his addressing the human health risk from the additive.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.