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What is it?

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.

See also: Air Pollution Brownfield Construction Factories Food and Cooking Drinking Water Cancer Asthma and other Lung Diseases Reproductive Health Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease Learning and Developmental Disabilities

Where is Arsenic found?

  • Consumer products - primarily in wood preservatives, tobacco products, metal adhesives, and pigments
  • Groundwater
  • 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:

Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Drinking water or eating food that contains arsenic
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Smoking tobacco products, breathing secondhand smoke, or breathing air that contains arsenic emissions
Skin contact
  • 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
  • Cancer

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
  • Arsenic: Health Information Resources

    Links to health resources in English and Spanish on arsenic, including background information; regulations and policy; specific aspects; blogs, news, podcasts, and videos; topic related searches from the National Library of Medicine; and selection guidelines.

  • Arsenic Compounds. Hazardous Substances Data Bank

    Search results on arsenic compounds from a toxicology database that focuses on the toxicology of potentially hazardous chemicals.

Additional Resources
  • Protect Yourself from Arsenic in Your Well Water (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services)

    Resource for protecting yourself from arsenic in well water, including identification, associated health effects, and links for additional information.

  • Arsenic (World Health Organization)

    Information in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish on arsenic, including key facts, and sources of exposure in water, food, industrial processes, and tobacco. This website also describes acute and long-term health effects of arsenic exposure, as well as methods of prevention and control, and the response of the agency that directs international health.

  • What Is Arsenic? (Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center)

    Resource on arsenic that includes information on its sources, uses, exposure, and resulting health effects.

  • Arsenic. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about arsenic exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.

  • Chromated Arsenicals (CCA) (Environmental Protection Agency)

    Information on chromated arsenicals (CCA), including how to dispose of items treated with this group of pesticides safely.

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