Sunday, July 11, 2010

What is arsenic and how does it affect us?

Hi readers. =) In this post, we will be sharing with you some information about arsenic and how it enters our water supply.


Arsenic is a metalloid element that belongs to the nitrogen group. They can exist in more than 200 species. It is widely found in the earth's crust with only a trace amount found in rock, soil and air. The concentration of arsenic may vary with different places with certain areas with higher concentrations due to the effects of weathering and activities such as metal mining, smelting, fossil fuel combustion and pesticise use.

Arsenic can occur in many forms such as crystalline, powder, amorphous or vitreous form. The inorganic form of arsenic is more toxic than the organic form. Due to the fact that it is invisible, tasteless and odorless when present in water, there is no doubt that this will put people off guard when they drank water containing arsenic.

Health impacts

The picture shows a man with skin lesions on his palm due to drinking water contaminated with arsenic

Arsenic found in drinking water can cause bladder, lung and skin cancer, it may also cause kidney and liver cancer. According to several studies conducted, arsenic has been proven to harm the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and eventually death. It also causes serious skin problems. Under more serious conditions, it can even cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

Ingestion of soluble inorganic arsenic may even lead to gastrointestinal symptoms. Other symptoms such as bone marrow depression, haemolysis, hepatomegaly, melanosis, polyneuropathy and encephalopathy may be observed.

In order to prevent a the effects of arsenic to our body from becoming increasingly severe, it is absolutely necessary that we understand the symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Besides using the technologies which are available in the market for detecting arsenic, we can use our hair, nails, blood and even urine as a biomarker to detect the presence of arsenic. According to wikipedia, a biomarker is a substance used as an indicator of a biological state. Blood is only useful for people who are heavily poisoned by arsenic. Arsenic in hair and nails can be used as indicators and evidences of past exposure to arsenic. However, urine will provide us with the best quantitative estimate of arsenic.

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