What Is Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth's crust. In the environment, arsenic is combined with oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur to form inorganic arsenic compounds. Arsenic in animals and plants combines with carbon and hydrogen to form organic arsenic compounds. Inorganic arsenic compounds are mainly used to preserve wood. Organic arsenic compounds are used as pesticides, primarily on cotton plants.
Arsenic cannot be destroyed in the environment. It can only change its form. Arsenic in air will settle to the ground or is washed out of the air by rain. Many arsenic compounds can dissolve in water. Fish and shellfish can accumulate arsenic, but the arsenic in fish is mostly in a form that is not harmful.
Breathing high levels of inorganic arsenic can give you a sore throat or irritated lungs. Ingesting high levels of inorganic arsenic can result in death. Lower levels of arsenic can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of 'pins and needles' in hands and feet. Ingesting or breathing low levels of inorganic arsenic for a long time can cause a darkening of the skin and the appearance of small 'corns' or 'warts' on the palms, soles, and torso. Skin contact with inorganic arsenic may cause redness and swelling. Organic arsenic compounds are less toxic than inorganic arsenic compounds. Exposure to high levels of some organic arsenic compounds may cause similar effects as inorganic arsenic.
Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease