Health and Environment
Acute (Short-Term) Health Effects
- Acute inhalation of arsenic can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain and/or irritation of the nose and throat.
- Skin and eye contact can cause irritation and burning.
- Arsine gas is lethal to humans between 25 and 50 ppm (parts per million).
Chronic (Long-Term) Health Effects
- Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen. The U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) classifies inorganic arsenic as a Group A carcinogen, a human carcinogen of high carcinogenic hazard. The inhalation of inorganic arsenic is strongly associated with lung cancer and its ingestion has been linked to skin, bladder, liver, and lung cancers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classifies arsenic as a Group 1 carcinogen; it is carcinogenic to humans.
- Human and animal data suggest that inorganic arsenic is a reproductive hazard. The data are insufficient for developing a definitive causal relationship, especially due to the chance that other chemicals and risk factors were involved in analyses of human exposure.
- Chronic human inhalation of inorganic arsenic is associated with irritation of the skin and mucous membranes (dermatitis, conjunctivitis, pharyngitis, and rhinitis).
- Chronic oral exposure has resulted in kidney, liver, or stomach damage, as well as anemia, skin lesions, and holes or ulcers in the “bone” dividing the inner nose.
Facilities using arsenic or any of its compounds must minimize worker exposure.
- Ideally, arsenic should be used in closed systems, where it is automatically transferred from storage to process containers.
- If a closed production system is infeasible, facilities need to enclose operations and use local exhaust ventilation.
- Facilities must implement precautions to avoid contact with skin and eyes. For example, workers should not bring clothes home.
While arsenic is not flammable, contact with fire will produce poisonous gases.
Workers in metal smelters and wood preserving businesses are most likely to be exposed to above average levels of arsenic. Most industrial accidents involving arsenic occur when it is converted into arsine gas.
Found naturally in the environment and used in industry and agriculture, people are exposed to arsenic on a daily basis.
- For most people food is the primary source of inorganic arsenic exposure, with daily exposure levels ranging from 25-50 micrograms (μg) per day. Lower level exposures result from drinking water and breathing air.
- Residents living near metal smelters or facilities that burn plywood or other arsenic-treated wood products may be exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic.