What Are the Properties of Arsenic?

B. Turner

Arsenic is a metallic element that naturally occurs within the earth, and has a chemical symbol of As. Despite its reputation as a toxic poison, arsenic has many other beneficial properties. The chemical, physical, and other properties of arsenic vary based on the form and features of this element. It can be both a metal or non-metal, and occurs in liquid, solid, and gaseous forms. Regardless of the properties and state of arsenic, this material always features an atomic number of 33, which represents its 33 electrons.

Arsenic poisoning may cause confusion and headaches.
Arsenic poisoning may cause confusion and headaches.

The physical properties of arsenic depend largely on how it is processed. Natural arsenic features a gray, silvery color, and serves as a highly effective conducting material. It has a garlicky odor, and is chemically stable, yet fairly brittle.

Arsenic may be found in some herbicides and insecticides.
Arsenic may be found in some herbicides and insecticides.

When heated, arsenic's properties change as it's transformed into a liquid, then a gas. This gas is known as yellow arsenic, and when it cools and solidifies, it develops a soft, waxy texture. Once yellow arsenic is exposed to light, it transforms into black arsenic. Black arsenic is considered a mineral, and is completely non-metallic.

Arsenic may be found in the form of a crystalline powder.
Arsenic may be found in the form of a crystalline powder.

To examine the chemical properties of arsenic, one must analyze features such as its boiling point and solubility. Arsenic boils at 615 degrees Celsius (1,139 Fahrenheit), while solid versions melt at 814 degrees Celsius (1,497 Fahrenheit). It is not soluble in water in its natural state, though arsenic often binds with natural salts or minerals, which may be water soluble in some cases. Depending on where arsenic is found, it may exist in a crystalline or powder form.

Arsenic exposure may increase an individual's risk of developing bladder cancer.
Arsenic exposure may increase an individual's risk of developing bladder cancer.

One of the most well known properties of arsenic is its toxicity. Man has recognized arsenic as a potent poison for more than a millennium, and has used this element as both an herbicide and insecticide. In some instances, it also served in medicinal products or even beauty and cosmetic products. Man has also used arsenic as a chemical weapon, or simply as a discreet way to poison ancient kings and other leaders.

Arsenic has an atomic number of 33.
Arsenic has an atomic number of 33.

Even in its natural state, arsenic may cause accidental illness or death if it comes into contact with local water supplies. Once ingested or inhaled, this material competes with phosphates in the body during standard metabolic processes, which eventually leads to mass organ failure.

Arsenic poisoning can occur by ingesting foods or liquids that contain unhealthy doses of the substance.
Arsenic poisoning can occur by ingesting foods or liquids that contain unhealthy doses of the substance.

Some properties of arsenic make it useful in industry and manufacturing. Treating copper with arsenic gives the copper a silvery finish, making it a popular tool for forgers. In modern times, arsenic is used to harden lead and copper, or to prevent discoloration in brass, bronze, and even glass. It also serves as the fastest available semiconductor, but is used infrequently due to its high cost.

Some insecticides have included arsenic.
Some insecticides have included arsenic.

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