What Is Arsenic?

Lorna W.

Arsenic, chemical symbol As, is a metalloid solid. Its atomic number is 33, with an atomic weight of 74.92. In its standard state, it is very brittle and crystalline; it also sublimates (changes directly from a solid to a gas) when heated.

Vomiting may occur with arsenic poisoning.
Vomiting may occur with arsenic poisoning.

That's the scientific side of arsenic, but what really makes the element a household name is the fact that it's poisonous. From the movie Arsenic and Old Lace to the latest TV crime drama, this element has been the poison of choice for many a fictional criminal.

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

In real life, though, arsenic poisoning mainly comes from environmental causes. Contaminated air, food and water can all be a source of ingestion. It is also possible to ingest this poison when living near improperly controlled toxic waste sites and in regions where rocks contain a high arsenic concentration. Pressure treated wood may also include this element and can release it through sawdust or when burned.

Some occupations may require protective gear and filtered masks due to the possibility of arsenic exposure.
Some occupations may require protective gear and filtered masks due to the possibility of arsenic exposure.

Even at levels low enough to not be toxic, arsenic has unpleasant side effects. Breathing it may cause lung and throat irritation, while ingesting a smaller amount can cause nausea, vomiting and blood problems. Exposure to low levels over a longer period of time can cause darkened skin and wart-like marks.

A urinalysis can be used to help diagnose arsenic poisoning.
A urinalysis can be used to help diagnose arsenic poisoning.

If a person suspects that he or she has been exposed to arsenic, there are a few tests that medical professionals can perform. If a person can get tested within a few days of the potential exposure, then a urine sample will be the best indicator of the poison in the person's system. Over a longer period of six to 12 months, healthcare providers can examine the hair and nails for indicators of high levels of arsenic.

Breathing low levels of arsenic may cause throat irritation.
Breathing low levels of arsenic may cause throat irritation.

Despite its bad reputation, arsenic does have some innocent uses, such as preserving wood and bronzing. It can also be found as a component in pyrotechnics.

Arsenic exposure may increase an individual's risk of developing bladder cancer.
Arsenic exposure may increase an individual's risk of developing bladder cancer.
Ingesting even a little arsenic can cause nausea.
Ingesting even a little arsenic can cause nausea.
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.

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Discussion Comments

anon25533

No, boiling kills bacteria, viruses and parasites. To remove chemical contaminants like arsenic, you need a filter.

anon23596

if you're using water from your sink and boiling the water does that help?

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