Arsenic is as a gray-appearing chemical element (atomic number 33, symbol as in the periodic table) also called a metalloid. Arsenic may exist in three forms (yellow, black, and gray; predominating gray) and ionic forms in a metallic state. Arsenic is considered a heavy metal, and other heavy metals share some of the characteristics of arsenic toxicity with poisonings. Arsenic has historically been used as a therapeutic agent, as a pigment, as a pesticide, and as an agent intended to harm (use with criminal intent).Up until 2003, arsenic (in the form of chromate copper arsenate) was used in the US as a treatment to prevent insect infestation of wood used in building. In 2003 the use of this compound was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Arsenic is combined with copper, or contributes to alloys that include these materials being reinforced. Arsenic and some of its compounds react with proteins, mainly the thiol portions, and uncouples the process of oxidative phosphorylation, thus inactivating most cellular functions. Result to arsenic and some of the substance it combines with are lethal poisons for most biological system, except from a few bacterial species. Arsenic is used in making insecticides and weed killers. Arsenic is also known to be carcinogenic, which means having the ability to cause cancer.
Arsenic can be found as a contaminant in food and water sources. Shellfish and other seafood, as well as fruits, vegetables, and rice; are the foods most commonly contaminated. Usually, arsenic poisoning occurs from industrial exposure, from contaminated wine or illegally distilled spirits, or in cases of malicious intent.
Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning may include:
- Red or swollen skin
- Skin changes, such as new warts or lesions
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Muscle cramps
- Tingling of fingers and toes
Long-term arsenic exposure may cause serious symptoms. You should seek emergency help if you experience any of the following after a suspected arsenic exposure:
- Darkening skin
- Constant sore throat
- Persistent digestive issues
According to the World Health Organization, long-term symptoms tend to occur in the skin first, and can show up within five years of exposure. Cases of extreme poisoning may lead to death.
The most common causes of arsenic poisoning
Contaminated groundwater is the most common cause of arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is already present in the earth and can seep into groundwater. Also, groundwater can contain runoff from industrial plants. Drinking arsenic-laden water over a long period of time can lead to poisoning.
Other possible causes of arsenic poisoning can include:
- Breathing air that contains arsenic
- Smoking tobacco products
- Breathing contaminated air from plants or mines that use arsenic
- Living near industrialized areas
- Being exposed to landfill or waste sites
- Breathing in smoke or wood dust or waste contaminated with arsenic treated beforehand
- Eating arsenic-contaminated food — this isn’t common in the United States, but some seafood and animal products may contain small levels of arsenic
Complications linked to long-term arsenic consumption include:
- Liver disease
- Nervous system complications, such as loss of sensation in the limbs and hearing problems
- Digestive difficulties
The following measures can be taken to protect people from the arsenic in groundwater:
- Arsenic removal systems in homes: If the levels of arsenic in an area are confirmed as unsafe, systems can be purchased for the home to treat drinking water and reduce the arsenic levels. This is a short-term solution until the arsenic contamination can be dealt with at the source.
- Testing nearby water sources for traces of arsenic: Chemical examining of the water may aid in finding poisonous arsenic sources.
- Taking care when harvesting rainwater: arsenic poisoning may be avoided in areas with high rainfall by ensuring that the collection process does not place the water at risk of infection or that the water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Considering the depth of wells: The deeper the well, the less arsenic its water is likely to have.