Arsenic is an element that exists naturally in the Earth’s crust. Small amounts of arsenic are found in some rock, soil, water, and air. When arsenic combines with other chemical elements, it creates compounds, or chemical mixtures. When people come in contact with arsenic in the environment, it is often with compounds.
Arsenic spreads through the environment naturally through soil erosion (when soil is washed away by water) or storm water runoff (when water from rain or melted snow runs over the ground). Arsenic can be found in different forms — as pure arsenic, or combined with other elements to form compounds.
High levels of arsenic can also build up as a result of human activities, such as mining, farming, and other industries. This can be dangerous, because arsenic is poisonous to people and can cause serious health effects.
Arsenic is sometimes used in:
Arsenic may be used in the production of certain kinds of glass. It’s also added to heavy metals to make them stronger, creating compounds called alloys.
People can be exposed to (come in contact with) arsenic when it gets into food, water, and air. Here’s the good news: it’s very unlikely that you’ll be exposed to dangerous levels unless your job involves regular contact with arsenic (for example, if you work with certain metals or wood).
Symptoms of arsenic exposure can vary depending on:
Breathing in high levels of arsenic can cause a sore throat and irritation of the lungs. Repeated exposure to arsenic over time can damage many organs, including the kidneys, stomach, and liver. It can also cause different kinds of cancer. Swallowing or breathing in a lot of arsenic may even cause death.
Exposure to low levels of arsenic can cause:
Arsenic may hurt an unborn baby if a woman is exposed while she’s pregnant.
Find out more about the water you and your family use in your home for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and laundry at Indoor Water.
Some content courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.