Arsenic Toxicity

(Arsenic Poisoning)

Definition

Arsenic toxicity is exposure to toxic amounts of arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. It has no smell or taste. If you suspect you have been exposed to arsenic, contact your doctor right away.There are two primary forms of arsenic:
  • Inorganic arsenic—arsenic combined with hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur; found in the environment, sometimes as a gas
  • Organic arsenic—arsenic combined with carbon and hydrogen; found in animals and plants
Inorganic arsenic is much more harmful than organic arsenic.

Causes

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and minerals, and may enter the air, water, and soil. It is also used:
  • To preserve or pressure-treat wood—this use is being phased out except for specific applications such as railroad ties and utility poles, but old stocks may still be around and pose a risk
  • As an ingredient in pesticides
  • To produce glass
  • In copper and other metal manufacturing
  • In the electronics industry
  • In medicine
Arsenic toxicity may occur when a person is exposed to toxic amounts of arsenic due to:
  • Breathing air containing arsenic
  • Eating food contaminated with arsenic
  • Drinking water contaminated with arsenic
  • Living in areas with high natural levels of arsenic
  • Working in a job that involves arsenic
The Lungs
BQ00001
Arsenic can be inhaled into the lungs.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop arsenic toxicity as a result of arsenic exposure. But certain people are more likely to be exposed to arsenic. The following factors increase your chances of being exposed to arsenic:
  • Working in:
    • Companies that preserve wood with arsenic
    • The metal manufacturing industry
    • The glass production industry
    • The electronic industry
    • Other industries that use arsenic
  • Living in an area with high natural levels of arsenic
In addition, children may be more susceptible than adults to the health effects of arsenic. There is some evidence that arsenic exposure may harm pregnant women and their unborn babies.

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