Poultry manure and arsenic contamination

Tainted poultry litter causing widespread arsenic contamination

Thursday, August 19, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has pinpointed a major source of arsenic contamination in the environment — poultry litter. Commercial poultry producers often supplement chicken feed with roxarsone, an arsenic-based food additive, in order to bulk them up and prevent parasites from forming in their systems. But this toxin ends up contaminating local water supplies and crop fields.

Roxarsone helps to prevent commercial chickens from becoming infected with parasites, and it also helps to promote weight gain, but the birds end up excreting it into their litter. This litter is then spread on crop fields where it poisons not only the soil, but also nearby rivers and streams. Natural chicken litter is full of nutrients and is beneficial to crop soil, but when full of arsenic, it is poisonous and toxic to the environment.

Defendants of roxarsone insist that the additive is safe because it is derived from organic arsenic, but studies have shown that organic arsenic converts to the harmful, inorganic kind when it reacts with the bacteria in chicken manure.

For two years, a team of soil experts, water management professionals and scientists, analyzed arsenic levels in water supplies near poultry-production facilities and farms where chicken litter is spread. They found that levels varied between 0.004 kilograms per hectare to 19 kilograms per hectare. The team detected the highest levels of arsenic in a ditch directly next to a large storage shed for chicken litter.

Though the team suggests that better litter management practices be put in place to remediate the problem, others suggest following Europe’s lead by banning arsenic-based food additives altogether.

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