Ask A Toxicologist > I recently had my urine tested for metals and it came back with a report of very high levels of arsenic. I don’t remember having an exposure to arsenic. It is possible that I have been poisoned? Should I be worried?
I recently had my urine tested for metals and it came back with a report of very high levels of arsenic. I don’t remember having an exposure to arsenic. It is possible that I have been poisoned? Should I be worried?
Arsenic is a metal that occurs naturally in soil and rocks. As a result, arsenic can be present in food and water. Arsenic is also used in some pesticides and industries. Because arsenic is so abundant in the environment, all people have some amount of exposure to arsenic. Arsenic is found in many popular foods and drinks. Exposure to small amounts, such as those reported in brands of apple juice and rice sold in the United States, have not been associated with illness. Arsenic is also one of many chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
Arsenic can be present in different forms. A gaseous form of arsenic, called arsine, is used in some industries and can be very harmful if inhaled. Another form is inorganic arsenic, which is used in medicine and has been used in pesticides. For the typical American today, the most common source of exposure to arsenic is seafood. Fish and shellfish contain an organic form of the chemical known as arsenobetaine. Additionally, most calcium supplements are from seashells which also contain organic arsenic compounds. This form of arsenic is considered non-toxic compared to other forms of arsenic, and there are no regulatory limits on the amount of arsenic seafood can contain.
Michelle Ruha, MD FACMT