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Arsenic Summary & Details:
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Questions and Answers presented in 3 levels of increasing detail.

Questions on Arsenic
1. What is arsenic?
Context - Arsenic is a poisonous substance, 2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?
which is released both from certain human 3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?
activities and naturally from the earth's crust. 4. What happens to arsenic in the body?
Humans may be exposed to arsenic mainly
5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory
through food and water, particularly in certain
areas where the groundwater is in contact with animals?
arsenic-containing minerals. 6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?
7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?
8. What has happened in areas where drinking water
To what extent can arsenic exposure affect
human health or the environment? is heavily contaminated?
9. What have WHO and IARC established about
arsenic?
10. Conclusions
11. Other views

This is a faithful summary of the leading scientific consensus report


produced in 2001 by the IPCS (International Programme on Chemical Safety):

"Executive Summary of the Environmental Health Criteria for Arsenic and Arsenic Compounds" More...

More info on our 3-level structure

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Arsenic: Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic

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Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

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Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic


1. What is arsenic?
2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?
3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?
4. What happens to arsenic in the body?
5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory animals?
6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?
7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?
8. What has happened in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated?
9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?
10. Conclusions
11. Other views

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1. What is arsenic?

1.1 Arsenic is a natural element which behaves like a metal. It is present in the environment both naturally and due
to certain human activities. It has many different forms. It can exist in inorganic or organic form, inorganic arsenic
being generally considered more toxic. More...

1.2 Arsenic can be measured by a variety of laboratory methods. Some of these can distinguish between different
forms of arsenic and some methods allow very small amounts to be measured accurately. More...

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Arsenic: Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic

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2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?

2.1 Arsenic is found in the natural environment in some abundance in the earth’s crust and in small quantities in
rock, soil, water and air. It is present in many different minerals. About one third of the arsenic in the atmosphere
comes from natural sources, such as volcanoes, and the rest comes from man-made sources. Due to natural
geological contamination, high levels of arsenic can be found in drinking water that has come from deep drilled wells.
This is particularly true for Bangladesh. More...

2.2 Industrial processes such as mining, smelting and coal-fired power plants all contribute to the presence of arsenic
in air, water and soil. Environmental contamination also occurs because it is used in agricultural pesticides and in
chemicals for timber preservation. More...

2.3 Arsenic occurs in different forms and some is transported between different parts of the environment where it
may change its form. Arsenic in weathered rock or soil can be picked up and moved by the wind and water. Many
arsenic compounds bind to soil and only move short distances when water percolates down through the soil. If
arsenic is released into the atmosphere by industrial processes or volcanic activity, it attaches to particles that are
dispersed by the wind and fall back to the ground. Microbes in soil and sediment also release substances containing
arsenic into the atmosphere. These are then converted to other arsenic compounds that settle back onto the ground.
More...

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3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?

3.1 Environmental levels of arsenic vary. In air, levels are lowest in remote and rural areas, higher in urban areas,
and highest close to industrial sources. In water, levels of arsenic are lowest in seawater, higher in rivers and lakes
and highest in water from underground areas containing volcanic rock or arsenic-rich mineral deposits. The
background levels of arsenic in soil and sediment increase if there are natural and/or man-made sources of arsenic
contamination present. More...

3.2 The amounts of arsenic found in living animals, plants and microbes vary. The quantities depend on the level of
local contamination and on the type of organism, as certain organisms tend to accumulate arsenic in their bodies.
Arsenic is generally present in sea-living animals at higher levels than in freshwater animals, or plants and animals
that live on land. Plants on land can accumulate arsenic compounds via uptake from soil and/or deposition from air
onto leaves. More...

3.3 Humans are exposed mainly through food and water. Food is usually the largest source except in areas where
drinking water is naturally contaminated with arsenic. The quantities of arsenic breathed in by non-smokers are very
small, except in industrially polluted areas. Smokers inhale more because arsenic is one of many hundreds of
chemicals present in cigarette smoke. Exposure to arsenic in the workplace can be quite high, but the amounts
present in the air in the workplace are controlled in many countries. More...

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Arsenic: Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic

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4. What happens to arsenic in the body?

4.1 When arsenic is inhaled due to its presence in airborne particles, the amount absorbed into the blood stream
depends on two things – how soluble the particular form of arsenic is and how small the particles are. This said, most
arsenic in the body comes from the diet. In the gut, soluble arsenic compounds present in food are rapidly absorbed
into the blood stream. Many arsenic compounds are quickly transformed and eliminated from the body via the urine.
However, there are differences from one person to another in the ability to get rid of arsenic compounds. More...

4.2 The amount of arsenic in the body can be estimated by taking samples of blood, urine, hair, or nails and
measuring the arsenic - or arsenic-containing substances - present. Arsenic disappears rapidly from blood, so
measurements in blood only tell you about recent high exposures, such as poisonings, or long-term exposures if they
are repeated and high. Levels in urine are the best measure of recent exposure, whereas levels in hair and nails can
tell you about past exposure. More...

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5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory animals?

Arsenic can have adverse effects on laboratory animals but some forms of arsenic are more toxic than others. The
consequences include death when exposures are high enough to cause poisoning and cancer. Many parts of the body
may also be damaged by arsenic, including the skin, gut, lungs, heart, blood vessels, immune system, urinary
system, reproductive organs and the nervous system. Arsenic can also damage chromosomes, which contain the
genetic material inside the cells of the body. More...

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6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?

Living organisms, both on land and in water, react in a variety of ways to arsenic exposure. The effects depend on
the chemical form of the arsenic, the nature of the surrounding environment and their own particular biological
sensitivity. Individual organisms or whole populations may be affected. Adverse effects include death, poor growth
and failure to reproduce. Where arsenic has contaminated a natural environment, the number of different species
found is much reduced. More...

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Arsenic: Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic

7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?

7.1 If a large amount of arsenic is swallowed by humans, in a form that is readily absorbed, it can cause rapid
poisoning and death. The gut, the heart and the nervous system are affected. Those who survive acute poisoning
may develop pigment spots in the skin and damage to red blood cells, bone marrow (where blood cells are made),
liver, nerves and brain. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause thickening and
pigment spots in the skin, and cancer of the skin, lungs, bladder or kidney. Exposure in the workplace – mainly via
the air breathed in – can cause lung cancer. Smoking further increases the risk. More...

7.2 Long-term ingestion of arsenic, mainly from drinking of contaminated well water, has caused a disease called
‘blackfoot’ in Taiwan. Blood vessels of the leg and foot become damaged, resulting in coldness, loss of feeling and
eventually gangrene in the foot. More...

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8. What has happened in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated?

Drinking water from unpolluted sources normally contains only small amounts of arsenic. Drinking water from
underground wells can become heavily contaminated in certain areas where the groundwater is in contact with
natural arsenic from minerals. This can be a serious problem in countries like Bangladesh, West Bengal in India, and
Taiwan. In Bangladesh, large numbers of people are regularly drinking water containing more than 5 times and up to
more than 100 times the usual concentration of arsenic. Adverse effects on health, such as skin changes and cancer
have been experienced by people living in these regions. More...

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9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?

International bodies have previously evaluated arsenic: the World Health Organization (WHO) has set a provisional
guideline value of 10 µg/litre for arsenic in drinking-water and according to the International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC) there is enough evidence to conclude that “arsenic and arsenic compounds” can cause cancer in
humans. More...

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Arsenic: Level 1 - Summary on Arsenic

10. Conclusions

Arsenic is a chemical substance, which is released from the earth’s crust via natural processes and from certain
human activities. It can exist in inorganic or organic form, inorganic arsenic being generally considered more toxic.
(see 1. and 2.)

Environmental levels of arsenic vary. Concentrations of the generally more toxic inorganic arsenic are highest in
air close to industrial sources, in underground water in areas with natural geological contamination, and in soils or
sediments near contamination sources. Concentrations of the less toxic organic arsenic are particularly high in sea-
living animals and therefore in seafood.

Humans are exposed mainly through food and water, but arsenic can also be inhaled. After absorption into the
blood stream, arsenic is rapidly transformed and eliminated from the body via urine. (see 3. and 4.)

Organisms living in the environment react in a variety of ways to arsenic exposure. It can even lead to death,
poor growth and failure to reproduce. Where arsenic has contaminated a natural environment, the number of
different species found is reduced. (see 5. and 6.)

In humans, if a large amount of the more toxic inorganic arsenic is swallowed in a form that is readily absorbed, it
can affect the gut, the heart and the nervous system, causing rapid poisoning and death. Drinking water from
unpolluted sources normally contains only small amounts of arsenic. However, in areas with natural geological
contamination, such as Bangladesh, drinking water from wells can contain high levels of inorganic arsenic; such
levels can harm the skin and are associated with increased risk of cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.
Exposure to contaminated air at the workplace can cause lung cancer. (see 7. and 8.)

Arsenic and arsenic compounds have been classified as carcinogenic to humans and guideline values for drinking-
water have been set. (see 9.)

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11. Other views

This summary is based on the 2001 IPCS Environmental Health Criteria 224 "Arsenic and Arsenic Compounds". It is
considered by most scientists as a consensus document and other recent scientific assessments reach similar
conclusions - click here for some links

However, some people and organizations put forward views suggesting that Arsenic poses less risk - click here for
some links.

Conclusion Level 1 Questions

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Other views on Arsenic

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Other Views on
Arsenic
The links on this page are selected as examples of views that differ from that of the IPCS.
This list of links is only a sample and neither pretends to be complete nor fully representative of all the views available.
GreenFacts takes no position concerning the views expressed in these linked documents.

Most scientists globally agree with the conclusions of the Executive summary of the EHC for Arsenic and Arsenic
Compounds , produced in 2001.

Some of the sites suggesting that arsenic poses less risk

● The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) concludes that "there is little, if any, evidence of a
detrimental health effect in humans from inorganic arsenic in drinking water at the current MCL of 50 µg/L or
below, either in the United States or elsewhere.":
www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.157/healthissue_detail.asp.

● The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) "applauds the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s unanimous
decision (...) not to ban the pesticide, chromated copper arsenate, in playground equipment." It states that
"for more than 70 years, wood treated with the preservative that includes trace levels of arsenic has been used
in commercial and residential products without ill health effects. The chemical prevents decay and insect
damage."
www.cei.org/gencon/003,03739.cfm

The links on this page are selected as examples of views that differ from that of the IPCS.
This list of links is only a sample and neither pretends to be complete nor fully representative of all the views available.
GreenFacts takes no position concerning the views expressed in these linked documents.

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Arsenic: Level 2 - Details on Arsenic

Home > Studies > Arsenic > Level 2 > Questions

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Arsenic Summary & Details:
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About this study

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Level 2 - Details on Arsenic


● 1. What is arsenic?
❍ 1.1 What are the properties of arsenic?
❍ 1.2 How are arsenic levels measured?

● 2. Where does environmental arsenic come from??


❍ 2.1 What are the natural sources of environmental arsenic?
❍ 2.2 What are the man-made sources of environmental arsenic?
❍ 2.3 How is arsenic transported and distributed in the environment?

● 3 . What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?


❍ 3.1 How much arsenic is there in the environment?
❍ 3.2 What levels of arsenic are found in living organisms?
❍ 3.3 What levels of arsenic are humans exposed to?

● 4. What happens to arsenic in the body?


❍ 4.1 What happens to arsenic absorbed by the body?
❍ 4.2 What are the indicators of arsenic exposure?

● 5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory animals?

● 6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?

● 7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?


❍ 7.1 Can arsenic cause cancer and skin changes?
❍ 7.2 What other health problems can arsenic cause?

● 8. What has happened in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated?

● 9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?

● 10. Conclusions (level 1 only)

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Arsenic: Level 2 - Details on Arsenic

● 11. Other views (level 1 only)

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Arsenic: 1. What is arsenic?

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Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
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1. What is arsenic?

1.1 What are the properties of arsenic?


1.2 How are arsenic levels measured?

1.1 What are the properties of arsenic?

Arsenic is a metalloid - a natural element that is not actually a metal but which has some of the properties of a
metal. It is a natural component of the earth’s crust, generally found in trace quantities in all rock, soil, water and
air. However, concentrations may be higher in certain areas due to either natural conditions or human activities.

Arsenic can exist in many different chemical forms in combination with other elements. Some forms are inorganic,
which do not contain carbon, and others are organic, which always contain carbon. Inorganic arsenic exists in four
main chemical forms known as valency or oxidation states. Valency is a measure of the ability of a compound to
combine with other elements, such as hydrogen. The dominant forms are arsenite, with a valency of 3, and arsenate,
with a valency of 5.

The element arsenic itself is not soluble in water. Arsenic in combination with other elements (as salts) has a wide
range of solubilities depending on the surrounding acidity and the presence of other chemicals. More...

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Arsenic: 1. What is arsenic?

1.2 How are arsenic levels measured?

There are various laboratory methods for the detection and measurement of arsenic. Some of these methods can
distinguish between the different chemical forms (valency) of the arsenic. Sensitive measuring techniques exist for a
limited range of arsenic compounds. A test kit based on a color reaction is currently used for groundwater testing in
Bangladesh that is suitable for use under field conditions. More...

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Arsenic: 2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?

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2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?

2.1 What are the natural sources of environmental arsenic?


2.2 What are the man-made sources of environmental arsenic?
2.3 How is arsenic transported and distributed in the environment?

2.1 What are the natural sources of environmental arsenic?

The earth’s crust is an abundant natural source of arsenic. It is present in more than 200 different minerals, the most
common of which is called arsenopyrite.

About one-third of the arsenic in the earth’s atmosphere is of natural origin. Volcanic action is the most important
natural source. The next most important source is arsenic-containing vapor that is generated from solid or liquid
forms of arsenic salts at low temperatures.

Inorganic arsenic of geological origin is found in groundwater used as drinking water in several parts of the world, for
example Bangladesh, India and Taiwan (1).

Organic arsenic compounds, that is, those containing carbon, are mainly found in sea-living organisms, although
some of these compounds have also been found in species living on land. More...

As seen in questions 5 to 8, inorganic arsenic poses more problems than organic arsenic.

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Arsenic: 2. Where does environmental arsenic come from?

2.2 What are the man-made sources of environmental arsenic?

Elemental arsenic is produced commercially from arsenic trioxide. Arsenic trioxide is a by-product of metal smelting
operations. About 70% of the world production of arsenic is used in timber treatment, 22% in agricultural chemicals,
and the remainder in glass, pharmaceuticals and metallic alloys.

Mining, metal smelting and burning of fossil fuels are the major industrial processes that contribute to arsenic
contamination of air, water and soil. The use of arsenic-containing pesticides in the past has left large areas of
agricultural land contaminated. The use of arsenic in the preservation of timber has also led to contamination of the
environment. More...

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2.3 How is arsenic transported and distributed in the environment?

The transport and distribution of arsenic in the environment is complex, due to the many chemical forms in which it
may be present and because there is continuous cycling of different forms of arsenic through air, soil and water.

Much of the arsenic in the atmosphere comes from high-temperature processes such as coal-fired power plants,
burning vegetation and volcanic activity. The arsenic is released into the atmosphere primarily as arsenic trioxide
where it adheres readily onto the surface of particles. These particles are dispersed by the wind and eventually fall
back to the earth due to their weight or during rain.

Natural, low-temperature biological reactions involving microbes also release arsenic into the atmosphere. Microbes
acting on arsenic in soils and sediments generate arsine gas or other volatile arsenic compounds. Arsine reacts with
oxygen in the air and is converted back to non-volatile forms of arsenic, which settle back to the ground.

Arsenic dissolved in water can be present in several different forms. In well-oxygenated water and sediments, nearly
all arsenic is present in the stable form of arsenate. Some arsenite and arsenate forms are less stable and are
interchangeable, depending on the chemical and biological conditions. Some chemical forms of arsenic adhere
strongly to clay and organic matter and this can affect how they behave in the environment. There is potential for
arsenic to be released from water and sediments, again depending on the chemical and biological conditions.

Lastly, weathered rock and soil containing arsenic may be transported by wind or water erosion. Since many arsenic
compounds tend to adhere strongly to soils, water percolating down does not usually move arsenic through more
than a short distance in soil. More...

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Arsenic: 3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?

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3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?

3.1 How much arsenic is there in the environment?


3.2 What levels of arsenic are found in living organisms?
3.3 What levels of arsenic are humans exposed to?

3.1 How much arsenic is there in the environment?

Arsenic concentrations in air range from very low (0.02 to 4 ng/m3) in remote and rural areas, to low (3 to about
200 ng/m3) in urban areas. Much higher concentrations (more than 1000 ng/m3) can be found near some industrial
sources such as smelters, although in some countries, very high levels are no longer found because of measures
taken to reduce pollution.

Concentrations of arsenic in open ocean seawater are typically low (1–2 µg/litre). In rivers and lakes, concentrations
are somewhat higher but generally below 10 µg/litre. Exceptions are near man-made sources such as pesticide
manufacturing or mining, where individual samples in surface waters may be 1000 times higher (up to 5000
µg/litre). Arsenic levels in groundwater are typically as low as in open ocean water (about 1–2 µg/litre), except in
areas with volcanic rock and sulphide mineral deposits where arsenic levels can range up to 3000 µg/litre.

In sediment, arsenic concentrations range from 5 to 3000 mg/kg. The higher levels are found in areas contaminated
by mining and smelting. In soil, concentrations range from 1 to 40 mg/kg, usually averaging around 5 mg/kg.
Naturally elevated levels of arsenic in soils may be associated with the presence of sulphide ores in the rock layers
below the soil. Soils heavily contaminated by activities such as mining of gold and arsenic, metal smelting and
agricultural chemical application can have concentrations of arsenic up to several thousand milligrams per kg
(mg/kg) or more. More...

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Arsenic: 3. What are the levels of exposure to arsenic?

3.2 What levels of arsenic are found in living organisms?

Sea-living plants and animals normally contain organic arsenic residues. These are generated from inorganic forms of
arsenic, either by microbes or by the plants and animals themselves. Amounts range from less than 1 to more than
100 mg/kg. Arsenic can build up (bioaccumulate) in the bodies of aquatic organisms, particularly those living in the
sea. Arsenic concentrations in freshwater and land-living animals and plants are usually less than 1 mg/kg. Land-
living plants may accumulate arsenic via uptake through the roots from the soil or by deposition of airborne arsenic
on the leaves. Arsenic levels are higher in living organisms collected near man-made sources of arsenic or in areas
with volcanic activity. Up to 3000 mg/kg has been found in some species at arsenical mine sites. More...

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3.3 What levels of arsenic are humans exposed to?

Exposure of the general population to arsenic occurs mainly through food and water and in most areas, food is the
main source. The daily intake of arsenic from food and beverages is generally between 20 and 300 µg/day. Arsenic in
food is mainly in the form of organic arsenic, which is generally thought to pose less health problems than inorganic
arsenic (see questions 5 to 8). About one-quarter of the arsenic present in the diet is inorganic arsenic, mainly from
foods such as meat, poultry, dairy products and cereals. Fish and shellfish contain the highest concentrations of
arsenic, but the proportion of inorganic arsenic in fish is very low, below 1%. In some areas, where levels of arsenic
in groundwater are high, drinking water may be the main source of intake. In drinking water, arsenic is present in
the more toxic, inorganic form.

Arsenic which is breathed in contributes around 1 µg/day in a non-smoker, 10 times as much in a smoker, and more
in polluted areas. Contaminated soils such as mine tailings are also a potential source of arsenic exposure

The amount of arsenic absorbed into the body from all sources can be assessed on an individual basis by measuring
the concentration of inorganic arsenic and its metabolites in urine. Generally, it ranges from 5 to 20 µg arsenic per
litre of urine (µg/litre), but may even exceed 1000 µg/litre. (see 4.2)

In workplaces with up-to-date occupational hygiene practices, exposure concentrations generally do not exceed 10
micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3). However, in some workplaces arsenic concentrations several hundred
times higher have been reported. More...

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Arsenic: 4. What happens to arsenic in the body?

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4. What happens to arsenic in the body?

4.1 What happens to arsenic absorbed by the body?


4.2 What are the indicators of arsenic exposure?

4.1 What happens to arsenic absorbed by the body?

The amount of arsenic absorbed into the body from inhaled airborne particles is highly dependent on two factors, the
size of particles and their solubility. The size of the particles determines how far into the lungs they can penetrate –
the further they penetrate the more likely arsenic is to be absorbed. The solubility of the particles in the fluid lining
the lungs determines how easily arsenic will be absorbed into the blood stream. In the gut, soluble arsenic
compounds from food and beverages are rapidly and extensively absorbed into the blood stream.

In humans and most common laboratory animals, inorganic arsenic is metabolized via two main types of reaction:
(1) conversion of the pentavalent form of arsenic - arsenate - to the trivalent form - arsenite, and (2) methylation,
i.e. addition of a methyl group comprising one atom of carbon and three of hydrogen (-CH3) to the trivalent form.
After methylation arsenic can be rapidly eliminated from the body with the urine. There can be large differences
between individual humans in their capacity for methylation that is most likely due to differences in enzyme capacity
in the body. It is not clear if children have a reduced capacity for methylation compared with adults. Studies suggest
that the main pathway for getting rid of arsenic from the body, methylation, may be inhibited at high exposures.

The uptake and elimination of arsenic depends on its chemical form, particularly at high exposures. For example,
ingested organic arsenic compounds are much less extensively metabolized and more rapidly eliminated in urine than
inorganic arsenic in both laboratory animals and humans. In the case of inorganic arsenic, the trivalent forms pass
more rapidly into the tissues compared with the pentavalent forms. More...

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Arsenic: 4. What happens to arsenic in the body?

4.2 What are the indicators of arsenic exposure?

The amounts of arsenic or its metabolites in blood, hair, nails and urine are used as indicators - biomarkers - of
arsenic exposure. Blood arsenic is only useful for indicating either acute poisoning or repeated high-level exposures
occurring over a long period. This is because arsenic rapidly disappears from blood.

Arsenic persists longer in hair and nails, which can, therefore, be used as indicators of past exposure. The
concentration of arsenic, along a hair may be used to estimate the timing of an exposure.

The best estimate of recent exposure to inorganic arsenic is to measure it and its specific chemical metabolites in
urine. However, consumption of certain seafood high in organic arsenic, such as seaweed or mollusks, produces one
of the same metabolites as inorganic arsenic and may therefore exaggerate estimates of inorganic arsenic exposure
in some people at certain times. Such foods should be avoided for 2–3 days before urine sampling. More...

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Arsenic: 5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory animals?

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Scientific Facts on Source document:


IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

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5. What are the effects of arsenic on laboratory animals?

Both inorganic and organic forms of arsenic may affect the health of laboratory animals. The effects range from rapid
death to effects which only emerge later, such as cancer. The degree of toxicity depends whether the arsenic is
inorganic or organic and on its chemical form (valency). Inorganic arsenic is generally more toxic than organic
arsenic, and in the case of inorganic arsenic, trivalent forms are more toxic than pentavalent forms, at least at high
doses. Many different parts of the body can be affected by arsenic, including the skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels,
immune system, kidney, reproductive system, gut and nervous system.

According to IPCS, studies to investigate whether arsenic causes cancer in animals have been inconclusive. However,
IARC now considers there is limited evidence for cancer in laboratory animals. For example, female mice of a
particular type, given high levels of arsenic in drinking water for 2 years, developed tumors of the lung, liver, gut and
skin. (Very recent studies show arsenic causes cancer in several organs and tissues of animals exposed before birth,
via their mothers during pregnancy.) Other laboratory studies have investigated how cancer might be caused.
Inorganic arsenic does not directly damage DNA, the inherited genetic material in cells. However, arsenic can
damage whole chromosomes in cells grown in the laboratory, affect the repair of damaged DNA, cause cells to
multiply, and promote the development of tumors induced by other chemicals. One study has indicated that one of
the metabolites of arsenic found in the body may cause cancer of the bladder in male rats at high doses. More...

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Arsenic: 6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?

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IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

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6. What are the effects of arsenic on the environment?

Water and land-living plants and animals show a wide range of sensitivities to different chemical forms of arsenic.
Their sensitivity is modified both by biological factors and by their surrounding physical and chemical environment. In
general, inorganic forms of arsenic are more toxic to the environment than organic forms and, among inorganic
forms, arsenite is more toxic than arsenate. This is probably because the way in which the various forms are taken
up into the body differs and once taken up, they act in different ways in the body. The reason why arsenite is toxic is
thought to be because it binds to particular chemical groups - sulfhydryl groups - found on proteins. Arsenate, on the
other hand, affects the key energy producing process that take place in all cells.

Arsenic compounds cause short-term and long-term effects in individual plants and animals and in populations and
communities of organisms. These effects are evident, for example, in aquatic species at concentrations ranging from
a few micrograms to milligrams per litre. The nature of the effects depends on the species and time of exposure. The
effects include death, inhibition of growth, photosynthesis and reproduction, and behavioral effects. Environments
contaminated with arsenic contain only a few species and fewer numbers within species. If levels of arsenate are high
enough, only resistant organisms, such as certain microbes, may be present. More...

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Arsenic: 7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?

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IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
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7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?

7.1 Can arsenic cause cancer and skin changes?


7.2 What other health problems can arsenic cause?

7.1 Can arsenic cause cancer and skin changes?

Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney. It can also
cause other skin changes such as thickening and pigmentation. The likelihood of effects is related to the level of
exposure to arsenic and in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated, these effects can be seen in many
individuals in the population. Increased risks of lung and bladder cancer and skin changes have been reported in
people ingesting arsenic in drinking water at concentrations of 50 µg/litre, or even lower.

Exposure to arsenic in the workplace by inhalation can also cause lung cancer. The likelihood of cancer is related to
the level and duration of exposure. Increased risks of lung cancer have been observed at exposure levels that add up
to more than 750 (µg/m³).year. This figure is obtained by multiplying the average concentration in the workplace by
the number of years of exposure (for example, 15 years of exposure to a workroom air concentration of 50 µg/m3
correspond to 750 (µg/m3).year). Smoking and arsenic exposure combined increase the risk of lung cancer.

As regards the possible method by which arsenic causes cancer, the evidence in humans indicates that arsenic can
cause damage to whole chromosomes (clastogenic effects) but does not appear to cause damage to individual genes.
More...

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Arsenic: 7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?

7.2 What other health problems can arsenic cause?

Soluble inorganic arsenic can have immediate toxic effects. Ingestion of large amounts can lead to gastrointestinal
symptoms such as severe vomiting, disturbances of the blood and circulation, damage to the nervous system, and
eventually death. When not deadly, such large doses may reduce blood cell production, break up red blood cells in
the circulation, enlarge the liver, color the skin, produce tingling and loss of sensation in the limbs, and cause brain
damage.

Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic in drinking water in Taiwan has caused blackfoot disease, in which the blood
vessels in the lower limbs are severely damaged, resulting eventually in progressive gangrene. Its occurrence in
Taiwan may be influenced by factors such as poor nutrition. However, arsenic exposure has caused other forms of
blood vessel disease in the limbs in several other countries.

The relationship between arsenic exposure and other health effects is less clear. The evidence is strongest for high
blood pressure, heart attacks and other circulatory disease. The evidence is weaker for diabetes and reproductive
effects; it is weakest for strokes, long-term neurological effects, and cancer at sites other than lung, bladder, kidney
and skin. More...

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Arsenic: 8. What has happened in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated?

Home > Studies > Arsenic > Level 2 > Question 8

Scientific Facts on Source document:


IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

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8. What has happened in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated?

Arsenic levels in natural waters are usually low (a few µg/litre). However, there are several areas in the world where
arsenic-bearing minerals are in contact with groundwater. In such areas, drinking water from underground wells can
become heavily contaminated with natural inorganic arsenic, in excess of 1000 µg/litre in some cases. This has been
a serious health problem in countries like West Bengal in India, Taiwan, Chile and Mexico and is now a serious
problem in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the water in many districts is contaminated and large populations are regularly drinking water
containing more than 50 µg/litre. Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic in drinking water can cause adverse
effects on health, such as skin changes and cancer, which have been reported in these regions over the last hundred
years. In Taiwan, a resulting blood vessel disease, known as blackfoot disease, resulting eventually in progressive
gangrene has been studied since the 1920s. (see question 7.2). More...

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Arsenic: 9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?

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IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

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9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?

International bodies have previously evaluated arsenic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a provisional guideline value of 10 µg/litre for arsenic in drinking-water
as the practical quantification limit. That is, it is acknowledged that even this limit may not be entirely free of health
risks but there are practical problems in many areas of the world in reducing levels in drinking water below this limit.

Arsenic and arsenic compounds were evaluated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). There
was sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity to humans and limited evidence for carcinogenicity to animals, and the
overall evaluation was that "arsenic and arsenic compounds" are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). This evaluation
applies to the group of chemicals (i.e. arsenic and arsenic compounds) as a whole and not necessarily to all individual
chemicals within the group. More...

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Arsenic: 9. What have WHO and IARC established about arsenic?

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GreenFacts: Factual Arsenic Links

Home > Studies > Arsenic > Links

Scientific Facts on Source document:


IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

Create a link to our study

Factual Arsenic Links - endorsed by the GreenFacts Scientific Board

Some of the websites providing reliable scientific information on arsenic:

1. Some general information on arsenic


2. Arsenic in drinking water
3. Arsenic in other media
4. Some arsenic news sites
5. Some policy-related websites

Other Links - not necessarily endorsed by the GreenFacts Scientific Board

● Other Views suggesting that arsenic pose either more or less risks
● Sites linking to this arsenic study

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GreenFacts: Factual Arsenic Links

1. Some general information on arsenic

● ToxFAQs on arsenic by the American Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts2.html (2003).

● Questions & answers on arsenic from the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program at:
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/TXQAas.shtml

● General data on arsenic properties from the Australia A to Z of Materials website (AZoM) at:
http://www.azom.com/details.asp?ArticleID=1840

● The Sustainable Development Networking Program for Bangladesh (SDNP) provides material safety data on arsenic at:
http://www.sdnbd.org/sdi/issues/arsenic/articles/arsenic%20faq

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2. Arsenic in drinking water

● The World Health Organization (WHO) extensively addresses arsenic in drinking water at:
http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/arsenic/en/, including a discussion paper on health risk
substitution in arsenic mitigation and a factsheet on arsenic in drinking water

● FAQs on arsenic in drinking water from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) at:
http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/qarsenic.asp

● Health Canada addresses arsenic in drinking water at:


http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/iyh/environment/arsenic.html

● The Arsenic Crisis Information Centre (ACIC) extensively covers water pollution in Bangladesh and provides many links
at: http://bicn.com/acic/

● The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) addresses arsenic poisoning
through drinking water from groundwater sources at:
http://www.unescap.org/esd/water/groundwater/arsenic/

● The Winsconsin's Arsenic in Drinking Water & Groundwater information page (WDNR) at:
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/dwg/arsenic/

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GreenFacts: Factual Arsenic Links

3. Arsenic in other media

● A factsheet on arsenic in the diet of the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) at:
http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/science/surveillance/fsis2004branch/fsis5104arsenic

● A US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet on general aspects of arsenic, with a particular focus on
inhalation at:
http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/arsenic.html

● The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides extensive information on chromated copper arsenate and its
use as wood preservative at:
http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/1file.htm

● The European Commission held a public consultation on the use of arsenic in the preservation of wood at:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/chemicals/legislation/
markrestr/arsenic/consultation.htm

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4. Some arsenic news sites

● The Environmental Health Perspective journal of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
provides "Environews" on arsenic at:
http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/topic/arsenictop.html

● The London Arsenic Group (LAG) from the University College London provides news on arsenic picked up from the
press at: http://www.es.ucl.ac.uk/research/lag/as/

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5. Some policy-related websites

● The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for arsenic in drinking water at:
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic.html

● The European Commission Directive relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of arsenic at:
http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/pri/en/oj/dat/2003/l_004/l_00420030109en00090011.pdf

● An article on the evolution of recent policies regarding arsenic in the United States from the American Chemical Society
(ACS) at:
http://www.chemistry.org/portal/a/c/s/1/feature_pol.html?id= da1e02e6d46811d5fa834fd8fe800100

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GreenFacts: Factual Arsenic Links

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GreenFacts: Sources for the Arsenic study

Home > Studies > Arsenic > About this study

Scientific Facts on Source document:


IPCS (2002)
Arsenic Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2004)
About this study

GreenFacts Copyright Policy

About this Arsenic Study


1. Sources for this Arsenic Study
2. Current Status
3. Arsenic Study Publication History

1. Sources for this Study

The material content of most of the texts on Level 3 are directly sourced from the
Environmental Health Criteria for Arsenic and Arsenic Compounds (EHC 224), a leading scientific report produced
in 2001 by a large international panel of scientists of the IPCS (International Programme on Chemical Safety) and
WHO (World Health Organisation).

The Levels 1 & 2 were written by Dr. Sue Barlow in collaboration with the GreenFacts team.

More on the Source and Copyright

2. Current Status

Approved for publication by the GreenFacts Scientific Board.

3. Arsenic Study Publication History

The GreenFacts publication process is designed to ensure as high a degree of objectivity as possible.

First draft

The first draft of this study was produced by Dr. Sue Barlow in November 2003 on the basis of a canvas prepared by
the GreenFacts Team.

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GreenFacts: Sources for the Arsenic study

Second draft

The second draft of this study was produced in April 2004 by Dr. Sue Barlow after review by the GreenFacts Team. It
was put on-line as draft in May 2004.

Preliminary and peer review

The final draft of this study was produced in December 2004 by Dr. Sue Barlow after pre-review by experts from
environmental and industrial organizations (see our pre review form) and peer review by 3 independent scientists
selected by the GreenFacts Scientific Board (see our peer review form). Final corrections were added under
the supervision of the GreenFacts Scientific Board in December 2004.

Publication

Final publication was authorized by the President of the GreenFacts Scientific Board on 16 December 2004.

Updates or subsequent post-publication revisions

No update or revision at present.

GreenFacts Copyright Policy

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