What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is a metallic element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and is widely distributed in air, water, and land. It has no odor or taste. It is a known poison.
Where is Arsenic found?
- Consumer products - primarily in wood preservatives, tobacco products, metal adhesives, and pigments
- Air - released by volcanoes, mining, and smelter. It is released by tobacco smoke and by burning wood treated with arsenic.
- Natural environment - occurs naturally in small quantities in rocks and soil. Uranium mines may contain arsenic.
How can I be exposed to Arsenic?
Arsenic commonly enter(s) the body through:
- Drinking water or eating food that contains arsenic
- Smoking tobacco products, breathing secondhand smoke, or breathing air that contains arsenic emissions
- Touching arsenic or products made with arsenic
What happens when I am exposed to Arsenic?
Ingesting lower levels of arsenic can cause:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased production of red and white blood cells
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Damage to blood vessels
- A sensation of "pins and needles" in hands and feet
Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can result in severe health consequences, including death.
Breathing high levels of inorganic arsenic can give you a sore throat or irritated lungs.
Skin contact with inorganic arsenic may cause redness and swelling.
Ingesting or breathing low levels of inorganic arsenic for a long time can cause:
- Darkening of the skin
- Appearance of small "corns" or "warts" on the palms, soles, and torso
Who is at risk for exposure to Arsenic?
- Consumers –some consumer products (e.g., wood preservatives, tobacco products, pesticides) and contaminated food and water contain arsenic.
- Cigarette smokers - tobacco products and secondhand smoke contain arsenic.
- Pregnant women- exposure to arsenic can harm a developing fetus.
Reduce your risk
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to arsenic, contact your health care professional.
Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke tobacco products?
- Do you use arsenic-treated wood in home projects?
- Do you live in an area with high levels of arsenic in the water?
- Do you use well water?
- Do you use arsenic-based pesticides?
- Do not burn arsenic-treated wood.
- Avoid arsenic-based pesticides.
- Wear protective clothing if you work with arsenic-treated wood or arsenic-based pesticides.
- Review your municipal water report.
- Routinely test well water for arsenic levels. If it has high levels of arsenic, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
- If you have been exposed to arsenic, change clothing before entering your home.
- If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)
Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.
An article that explains how arsenic, a naturally occurring heavy metal and poison, occurs in soil, and may be present in many foods, including rice.
National Library of Medicine
While eating lunch, three students begin to wonder about the safety of eating foods that contain arsenic. Through their research, they will discover where arsenic is found, how it is used, and its effects on human health.