What is arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth's crust. In the environment, it combines with oxygen, chlorine and sulfur to form inorganic arsenic compounds. Inorganic arsenic compounds are used in a number of industrial processes such as in the making of electronics. Fish and shellfish accumulate arsenic, most of which is in an organic form, which is relatively non-toxic.
What are some occupations that put one at risk of being exposed to arsenic?
Some occupations where people may be at risk for inorganic arsenic exposure include workers in hazardous waste removal, melting and refining work, battery recycling and electronics manufacturing.
What are some other ways in which a person might be exposed to arsenic?
In general, non-occupational sources of arsenic exposure can be attributed to eating seafood. This dietary form of arsenic is relatively non-toxic when compared to other forms. Because most laboratories do not distinguish between organic and inorganic forms of arsenic, individuals are advised to avoid seafood consumption for at least two days prior to being tested.
Arsenic is also used as a preservative in wood and can released during the sawing, burning or sanding of treated wood. Wood working with treated lumber could potentially expose an individual to arsenic. Some common garden pesticides also contain arsenic.
Arsenic Tests and Seafood Consumption
The New York State Heavy Metals Registry (HMR) receives laboratory reports of all urine arsenic results above 50 mcg/L. Since 2000, test results have been received on over 1300 individuals. The HMR has identified that more than 92% of these reports were due to exposures to organic arsenic from seafood. Seafood consumption 2-3 days prior to specimen collection can markedly elevate levels of total arsenic in urine, due to organic arsenic present in the seafood. This dietary form of arsenic is relatively non-toxic when compared to other forms.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR)provides health-related information and a summary of possible sources of arsenic exposure
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) provides information relevant to arsenic and arsenic hazards in the workplace
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has information about arsenic in pressure-treated wood (wood treated with chromated copper arsenate)