Arsenic species in seafood: Origin and human health implications

Kevin A. Francesconi 1
  • 1 Institute of Chemistry-Analytical Chemistry, Karl-Franzens University Graz, Universitätsplatz 1, 8010 Graz, Austria

The presence of arsenic in marine samples was first reported over 100 years ago, and shortly thereafter it was shown that common seafood such as fish, crustaceans, and molluscs contained arsenic at exceedingly high concentrations. It was noted at the time that this seafood arsenic was probably present as an organically bound species because the concentrations were so high that if the arsenic had been present as an inorganic species it would certainly have been toxic to the humans consuming seafood. Investigations in the late 1970s identified the major form of seafood arsenic as arsenobetaine [(CH3)3As+CH2COO], a harmless organoarsenic compound which, following ingestion by humans, is rapidly excreted in the urine. Since that work, however, over 50 additional arsenic species have been identified in marine organisms, including many important food products. For most of these arsenic compounds, the human toxicology remains unknown. The current status of arsenic in seafood will be discussed in terms of the possible origin of these compounds and the implications of their presence in our foods.

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