Feature

Health scare of the week: Arsenic in seafood

Now scientists aren’t so sure. In a small study, volunteers who ingested organic arsenic later excreted far less of it than expected, which suggests the chemical is accumulating somewhere in their tissues.

How much arsenic is too much? It depends. Arsenic, an odorless and flavorless element, comes in many chemical guises, occurs both naturally and in industrial contaminants, and can be toxic in different amounts in different people. Still, so-called organic arsenic, found in seafood and in nature, was generally assumed to be harmless. Now scientists aren’t so sure. In a small study, volunteers who ingested organic arsenic later excreted far less of it than expected, which suggests the chemical is accumulating somewhere in their tissues. “When arsenic compounds accumulate in the body, that is not good news,” chemist Jorg Feldman, who was not involved in the study, tells Discovery News. In another surprise, the act of digestion broke down the arsenic into potentially toxic forms, raising questions about what levels of organic arsenic are safe in sushi, mussels, and other widely consumed seafood. “I don’t think this should panic anybody,” says lead author Kevin Francesconi of Austria’s University of Graz, but “we need to know more.”

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