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Use Nationally and in Massachusetts

In the U.S, arsenic production ended in 1985 when ASARCO closed its smelter in Tacoma, Washington. Now solely a consumer of arsenic, the U.S. used 22,300 metric tons in 1995 to produce industrial and agricultural chemicals, ceramics and glass products, electronics, and other products1 .

  • Industrial chemicals, primarily wood preservatives, accounted for 88% of U.S. arsenic consumption.
  • Agricultural chemicals accounted for 4.5% of U.S. arsenic consumption. Today agricultural use of arsenic is limited to the herbicides disodium methanearsonate and monosodium methanearsonate, for weed control in cotton fields. With the discovery of the hazards of arsenic and the development of organic-based herbicides and pesticides, arsenic use in agriculture has declined steadily since the 1930s and 1940s, when an estimated 45,000 metric tons of arsenic-based insecticides were used annually. As late as 1975, agricultural chemicals accounted for over 80% of total arsenic consumption in the U.S..
  • Ceramics and glass products accounted for 3% of U.S. arsenic consumption. Arsenic compounds remove dispersed air bubbles and color in glass manufacturing and control the rate of crystal growth in the glass ceramics industry.
  • Electronics and nonferrous alloys accounted for 2.7% of U.S. arsenic consumption. Arsenic serves a variety of functions in the electronics industry: it is used in the processing of gallium arsenic crystal, as a dopant in silicon wafers, and to manufacture arsine gas, which is used to make superlattice materials, lightwave devices, and high performance integrated circuits. Arsenic metal also increases corrosion resistance and tensile strength in copper alloys and strengthens posts and grids in lead-acid batteries.
  • The manufacture of pharmaceuticals and feed additives accounted for 1.8% of U.S. arsenic consumption.

Between 1990 and 1995 U.S. consumption of arsenic grew from 20,500 metric tons to 22,300 metric tons.2 Driving the national expansion of arsenic consumption is its use in industrial chemicals/wood preservatives, which increased from 14,400 metric tons in 1990 to 19,600 metric tons in 1995.

In Massachusetts, arsenic consumption increased 13% between 1990 and 1996 (see Table 1). Driving the increase in use was the electronics industry, which did not report any use of arsenic in 1990, but reported almost 73,000 pounds in 1996 (see Table 2).

  • Matheson Gas Products, Inc., reported 21,300 pounds of arsenic used to manufacture arsine gas for use in the electronics industry including: the manufacture of superlattice materials, lightwave devices, and high performance integrated circuits.
  • M/A Com reported 51,000 pounds of arsenic used: to produce arsine gas, to produce gallium arsenide crystal for use in semiconductor wafers, and as a dopant for manufacturing silicon wafers.

Similar to the nation, the primary use of arsenic in Massachusetts is as a wood preservative; it accounted for 100% of arsenic use in 1990 and 87% in 1996. Overall, the use of arsenic as a wood preservative in Massachusetts declined by 1% between 1990 and 1996. This reduction is a combination of one facility closing, and two larger facilities increasing their use of arsenic by almost 40%.

Table 1 includes two sources of “output” data: Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (MA TURA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data. The MA TURA database includes all non-product material created by a process line prior to release, on-site treatment, or transfer (“byproduct”) and the amount of toxic chemical incorporated into a product (“shipped in or as product”). The U.S. EPA, TRI database includes information on the waste materials generated by a facility after on-site treatment including: releases to air, land, and water (“environmental releases”) and transfers off-site for treatment or disposal (“off-site transfers”).

  • Total MA TURA outputs of arsenic and its compounds increased by only 1% between 1990 and 1996. In the electronics industry, arsenic is commonly used as an intermediary chemical and is transformed into new products like arsine gas and gallium arsenide crystal. Therefore, little TURA-reportable byproduct results from these uses.
  • Total EPA releases and transfers for Massachusetts increased between 1990 and 1996, rising from 544 pounds to 4,221 pounds. EPA off-site transfers increased because M/A Com reported almost 4,000 pounds of waste arsenic that was not generated in 1990.

Endnotes
1 All national data are from SRI, 1996.
2 This short time period masks wide fluctuations in U.S. arsenic consumption. Since 1973 (when 22,000 metric tons were consumed), consumption varied between a low of 9,700 metric tons in 1976 to a high of 23,900 metric tons in 1992. Between 1973 and 1995, consumption increased by only one percent (SRI, 1996).