As part of a movement to ban the use of arsenic in poultry production in the state of Maryland, the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch has partnered with community leaders to educate the public about the environmental and public health problems associated with the chemical.
A known poison, arsenic is often added to chicken feed in the form of the compound roxarsone to control the common intestinal disease coccidiosis, to promote growth and as a cosmetic additive, according to the report.
Chronic exposure to arsenic has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits and other health problems.
Maryland is the seventh largest broiler-producing state in the US, according the 2007 US Census of Agriculture.
The state sold nearly 300 million broiler chickens in 2007. On the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) alone, 1,700 chicken operations raise 11 million chickens per week.
Researchers estimate that between 20 and 50 tonnes of roxarsone are applied to crops there every year via poultry waste.
Groundwater tests on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay’s Coastal Plains found arsenic in some household wells reaching up to 13 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tolerance limit.
Arsenic in chicken litter can convert to more dangerous forms of arsenic than those originally used in feed. This is why a bill to ban arsenic in chicken feed was introduced earlier this year in the Maryland House of Delegates.