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Exposure/Effects
  • Inorganic arsenic is more harmful to humans than organic arsenic.
  • Lower levels of arsenic exposure may cause gastrointestinal illness, abnormal heart rhythm, blood vessel damage, skin abnormalities, and more.
  • Arsenic is a known carcinogen following long-term exposure.

Workers can be exposed to arsenic by breathing sawdust or burning smoke from wood containing arsenic, breathing workplace air, ingesting contaminated water, soil, or air at waste sites, or ingesting contaminated water, soil, or air near areas naturally high in arsenic If exposed to arsenic, people may expect negative effects. Inorganic arsenic is a human poison. Organic arsenic is less harmful. High levels of inorganic arsenic in food or water can be fatal. A high level is 60 parts of arsenic per million parts of food or water (60 ppm). Arsenic damages many tissues including nerves, stomach and intestines, and skin. Breathing high levels can cause a sore throat and irritated lungs.

Lower levels of exposure to inorganic arsenic may cause:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea;
  • Decreased production of red and white blood cells;
  • Abnormal heart rhythm;
  • Blood vessel damage; and
  • A “pins and needles” sensation in hands and feet.

When arsenic is ingested, a common side effect is irritation of the digestive tract, leading to pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other effects include decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart function, blood vessel damage, liver and/or kidney injury, and impaired nerve function causing a tingling feeling in the feet and hands.

The most characteristic effect of oral exposure to inorganic arsenic is a pattern of skin abnormalities, including the appearance of dark and light spots on the skin, and small corns on the palms, soles, and trunk, which may progress to skin cancer. Direct skin contact may cause redness and swelling. Arsenic ingestion has also been reported to increase the risk of cancer of the liver, bladder, kidney, and lung.

Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic may lead to a darkening of the skin and the appearance of small “corns” or “warts” on the palms, soles, and torso. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that arsenic is a known carcinogen. Breathing inorganic arsenic increases the risk of lung cancer. Ingesting inorganic arsenic increases the risk of skin cancer and tumors of the bladder, kidney, liver, and lung.