Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the environment. It has also been used historically in some consumer products. Everyone has a small amount of arsenic in their body. There are two general types of arsenic: organic and inorganic.

Exposure and Health Effects

Organic Arsenic

Some fish and shellfish contain a form of organic arsenic commonly called “fish arsenic.” Your body does not easily absorb fish arsenic and it leaves your body through the urine.

Inorganic Arsenic

Inorganic arsenic occurs naturally in soil and groundwater in some parts of the United States. Private well water may contain arsenic also. The public drinking water system in New York City is regularly tested for arsenic levels and meets strict health-based drinking water standards.

Inorganic arsenic can also be found in certain foods and beverages, such as rice, seaweed, fruit juice, beer and wine. Some dietary supplements can also contain arsenic. Tobacco smoke contains arsenic which can be inhaled by smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke.

The health effects of inorganic arsenic depend on how much enters the body, how long the person has been exposed and the health status of the person. At low levels of exposure, inorganic arsenic leaves the body in a few days. At high levels of inorganic arsenic exposure, a person could experience severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and other effects. Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, typically over many years, can damage the heart and skin and cause cancers.

Avoid Exposure

Because arsenic occurs naturally and small amounts are found in food, it is likely everyone is exposed to some amount of arsenic. You can reduce your exposure to arsenic by eating a variety of foods and avoiding tobacco smoke. Do not use dietary supplements that may contain arsenic.

If you are concerned about your arsenic exposure, call the Poison Center at 212-POISONS (212-764-7667) for more information or ask your doctor for a urine arsenic test. Avoid eating seafood and fish for three days before testing. If you do not have a doctor, call 311.

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