The element is used with other metals to make hard, strong, corrosion-resistant alloys. Its compounds are used in pigments, animal poisons, insecticides (e.g., Paris green), and poison gases (such as lewisite) for chemical warfare. They are also used in glassmaking, in calico and indigo printing, in tanning and taxidermy (as preservatives), and in pyrotechnics. Small quantities of arsenic added to lead in the manufacture of shot assure perfectly spherical pellets by delaying the solidification of the molten lead, and thereby allowing it to flow more readily; the arsenic also contributes hardness. A small amount of arsenic is added to germanium in the production of semiconductor devices such as transistors and integrated circuits.
A number of organic compounds of arsenic are used in medicine; the best known is Salvarsan, formerly used extensively in the treatment of syphilis and yaws. On the other hand, many arsenic compounds are strong poisons. Even in dilute concentrations that are not poisonous, as are found in some water supplies, arsenic may be carcinogenic. One delicate test for the presence of even minute quantities of arsenic in compounds is the Marsh test.
Arsenic occurs in many ores, including realgar, orpiment, and arsenopyrite, the chief commercial source. When it is prepared commercially from sulfide ores, e.g., arsenical pyrites, the ores are roasted (heated in the absence of air); the arsenic sublimes (passes directly from the solid to the gaseous state) and is condensed. In another method, white arsenic is reduced with carbon.
Although realgar, orpiment, and other arsenic minerals were known to the Greeks of Aristotle's time, the element itself was not. The "arsenic" so called by them and by the later alchemists was not true arsenic, but probably arsenic trioxide. The element was first described by Albertus Magnus in the 13th cent.
Harmful effects of arsenic compounds (in pesticides, chemotherapy drugs, paints, etc.), most often from insecticide exposure. Susceptibility varies. Arsenic is believed to combine with certain enzymes, interfering with cellular metabolism. Symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include nausea and abdominal pain followed by circulatory collapse. Acute exposure to the gas arsine causes destruction of red blood cells and kidney damage; chronic exposure causes weakness, skin disorders, anemia, and nervous-system disorders. Arsenic in urine and hair or nails is the key to diagnosis. Treatment involves washing out the stomach and promptly administering the antidote dimercaprol.
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Arsenic (gray) with realgar (red) and orpiment (yellow)
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The most common oxidation states for arsenic are -3 (arsenides: usually alloy-like intermetallic compounds), +3 (arsenates(III) or arsenites, and most organoarsenic compounds), and +5 (arsenates(V): the most stable inorganic arsenic oxycompounds). Arsenic also bonds readily to itself, forming, for instance, As-As pairs in the red sulfide realgar and square As43- ions in the arsenide skutterudite. In the +3 oxidation state, the stereochemistry of arsenic is affected by possession of a lone pair of electrons.
When heated in air it oxidizes to arsenic trioxide; the fumes from this reaction have an odor resembling garlic. This odor can be detected on striking arsenide minerals such as arsenopyrite with a hammer. Arsenic (and some arsenic compounds) sublimes upon heating at atmospheric pressure, converting directly to a gaseous form without an intervening liquid state. The liquid state appears at 20 atmospheres and above, which explains why the melting point is higher than the boiling point . Elemental arsenic is found in many solid forms: the yellow form is soft, waxy and unstable, and is made of tetrahedral As4 molecules similar to the molecules of white phosphorus. The grey, black or 'metallic' forms have somewhat layered crystal structures with bonds extending throughout the crystal. They are brittle semiconductors with a metallic luster. The density of the yellow form is 1.97 g/cm³; rhombohedral "grey arsenic" is much denser with a density of 5.73 g/cm³; the other metalloidal forms are similarly dense.
The application of most concern to the general public is probably that of wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, also known as CCA or Tanalith. The vast majority of older pressure-treated wood was treated with CCA. CCA lumber is still in widespread use in many countries, and was heavily used during the latter half of the 20th century as a structural and outdoor building material. According to the EPA's website, CCA lumber was discontinued for residential and general consumer construction on December 31, 2003. Alternatives to the discontinued CCA lumber are ACQ, Borates, Copper Azole, Cyproconazole, and Propiconazole. These are all arsenic-free wood pressure treatments. It was commonly used in situations where rot or insect infestation was a possibility. Although the use of CCA lumber was banned in many areas after studies showed that arsenic could leach out of the wood into the surrounding soil (from playground equipment, for instance), a risk is also presented by the burning of older CCA timber. The direct or indirect ingestion of wood ash from burnt CCA lumber has caused fatalities in animals and serious poisonings in humans; the lethal human dose is approximately 20 grams of ash. Scrap CCA lumber from construction and demolition sites may be inadvertently used in commercial and domestic fires. Protocols for safe disposal of CCA lumber do not exist evenly throughout the world; there is also concern in some quarters about the widespread landfill disposal of such timber.
During the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, a number of arsenic compounds have been used as medicines, including arsphenamine (by Paul Ehrlich) and arsenic trioxide (by Thomas Fowler). Arsphenamine as well as Neosalvarsan was indicated for syphilis and trypanosomiasis, but has been superseded by modern antibiotics. Arsenic trioxide has been used in a variety of ways over the past 200 years, but most commonly in the treatment of cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration in 2000 approved this compound for the treatment of patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia that is resistant to ATRA. It was also used as Fowler's solution in psoriasis.
Recently new research has been done in locating tumours using arsenic-74 (a positron emitter). The advantages of using this isotope instead of the previously used iodine-124 is that the signal in the PET scan is clearer as the iodine tends to transport iodine to the thyroid gland producing a lot of noise.
Arsenic was first isolated by Geber (721-815), an Arabian alchemist. Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great, 1193-1280) is believed to have been the first European to isolate the element in 1250. In 1649, Johann Schröder published two ways of preparing arsenic.
In the Victorian era, "arsenic" (colourless, crystalline, soluble "white arsenic") was mixed with vinegar and chalk and eaten by women to improve the complexion of their faces, making their skin paler to show they did not work in the fields. Arsenic was also rubbed into the faces and arms of women to "improve their complexion". The accidental use of arsenic in the adulteration of foodstuffs led to the Bradford sweet poisoning in 1858, which resulted in approximately 20 deaths and 200 people taken ill with arsenic poisoning.
In 2005, China was the top producer of white arsenic with almost 50% world share, followed by Chile and Peru, reports the British Geological Survey.
The most important compounds of arsenic are arsenic (III) oxide, As2O3, ("white arsenic"), the yellow sulfide orpiment (As2S3) and red realgar (As4S4), Paris Green, calcium arsenate, and lead hydrogen arsenate. The latter three have been used as agricultural insecticides and poisons. Orpiment and realgar were formerly used as painting pigments, though they have fallen out of use due to their toxicity and reactivity. Although arsenic is sometimes found native in nature, its main economic source is the mineral arsenopyrite mentioned above; it is also found in arsenides of metals such as silver, cobalt (cobaltite: CoAsS and skutterudite: CoAs3) and nickel, as sulfides, and when oxidised as arsenate minerals such as mimetite, Pb5(AsO4)3Cl and erythrite, Co3(AsO4)2. 8H2O, and more rarely arsenites ('arsenite' = arsenate(III), AsO33- as opposed to arsenate (V), AsO43-). In addition to the inorganic forms mentioned above, arsenic also occurs in various organic forms in the environment. Inorganic arsenic and its compounds, upon entering the food chain, are progressively metabolised to a less toxic form of arsenic through a process of methylation. For example certain molds produce significant amounts of trimethylarsine if inorganic arsenic is present. The organic compound arsenobetaine is found in some marine foods such as fish and algae, and also in mushrooms in larger concentrations. The average person's intake is about 10-50 µg/day. Values about 1000 µg are not unusual following consumption of fish or mushrooms. But there is little danger in eating fish because this arsenic compound is nearly non-toxic.
Arsenic and many of its compounds are especially potent poisons. Arsenic disrupts ATP production through several mechanisms. At the level of the citric acid cycle, arsenic inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase and by competing with phosphate it uncouples oxidative phosphorylation, thus inhibiting energy-linked reduction of NAD+, mitochondrial respiration, and ATP synthesis. Hydrogen peroxide production is also increased, which might form reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress. These metabolic interferences lead to death from multi-system organ failure (see arsenic poisoning) probably from necrotic cell death, not apoptosis. A post mortem reveals brick red colored mucosa, due to severe hemorrhage. Although arsenic causes toxicity, it can also play a protective role..
Exposure to lower levels of arsenic can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of “pins and needles” in hands and feet.
Arsenic is known to cause _chronic_arsenic_poisoning_from_drinking_water due to its manifestation in drinking water, “the most common species being arsenate [HAsO42- ; As(V)] and arsenite [H3AsO3 ; As(III)]”. The ability of arsenic to undergo redox conversion between As(III) and As(V) makes its availability in the environment more abundant. According to Croal, Gralnick, Malasarn, and Newman, “[the] understanding [of] what stimulates As(III) oxidation and/or limits As(V) reduction is relevant for bioremediation of contaminated sites (Croal). The study of chemolithoautotrophic As(III) oxidizers and the heterotrophic As(V) reducers can help the understanding of the oxidation and/or reduction of arsenic. Treatment of chronic arsenic poisoning is easily accomplished. British antilewisite (dimercaprol) is prescribed in dosages of 5mg/kg up to 300mg each 4 hours for the first day. Then administer the same dosage each 6 hours for the second day. Then prescribe this dogae each 8 hours for eight additional days.
The northern United States, including parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas are known to have significant concentrations of arsenic in ground water. Increased levels of skin cancer have been associated with arsenic exposure in Wisconsin, even at levels below the 10 part per billion drinking water standard.
Epidemiological evidence from Chile shows a dose dependent connection between chronic arsenic exposure and various forms of cancer, particularly when other risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, are present. These effects have been demonstrated to persist below 50 parts per billion.
A study of cancer rates in Taiwan suggested that significant increases in cancer mortality appear only at levels above 150 parts per billion.
Analyzing multiple epidemiological studies on inorganic arsenic exposure suggests a small but measurable risk increase for bladder cancer at 10 parts per billion. According to Peter Ravenscroft of the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge roughly 80 million people worldwide consume between 10 and 50 parts per billion arsenic in their drinking water. If they all consumed exactly 10 parts per billion arsenic in their drinking water, the previously cited multiple epidemiological study analysis would predict an additional 2,000 cases of bladder cancer alone. This represents a clear underestimate of the overall impact, since it does not include lung or skin cancer, and explicitly underestimates the exposure. Those exposed to levels of arsenic above the current WHO standard should weigh the costs and benefits of arsenic remediation.
Arsenic can be removed from drinking water through coprecipitation of iron minerals by oxidation and filtering. When this treatment fails to produce acceptable results, adsorptive arsenic removal media may be utilized. Several adsorptive media systems have been approved for point-of-service use in a study funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.EPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Magnetic separations of arsenic at very low magnetic field gradients have been demonstrated in point-of-use water purification with high-surface-area and monodisperse magnetite (Fe3O4) nanocrystals. Using the high specific surface area of Fe3O4 nanocrystals the mass of waste associated with arsenic removal from water has been dramatically reduced.
Occupational exposure to arsenic may occur with copper or lead smelting and wood treatment, among workers involved in the production or application of pesticides containing organic arsenicals. Human exposed to arsenic through air, drinking water, and food (meat, fish, and poultry); of this food is usually the largest source of arsenic. Arsenic was also found in wine if arsenic pesticides are used in the vineyard. Arsenic is well absorbed by oral and inhalation routes, widely distributed and excreted in urine; most of a single, low-level dose is excreted within a few days after consuming any form of inorganic arsenic. Remains of arsenic in nails and hair can be detected even after years and years after the exposure.
There are tests available to measure arsenic in your blood, urine, hair, and fingernails. The urine test is the most reliable test for arsenic exposure within the last few days. Urine testing needs to be done within 24-48 hours for an accurate analysis of an acute exposure. Tests on hair and fingernails can measure exposure to high levels of arsenic over the past 6-12 months. These tests can determine if you have been exposed to above-average levels of arsenic. They cannot predict whether the arsenic levels in your body will affect your health.
In 2008, bacteria were discovered that employ a version of photosynthesis in the absence of oxygen with arsenites as electron donors, producing arsenates (just like ordinary photosynthesis uses water as electron donor, producing molecular oxygen). Researchers conjecture that historically these photosynthesizing organisms produced the arsenates that allowed the arsenate-reducing bacteria to thrive. One strain PHS-1 has been isolated and is related to the γ-Proteobacterium Ectothiorhodospira shaposhnikovii. The mechanism is unknown, but an encoded Arr enzyme may function in reverse to its known homologues.
Arsenic also occurs in the II oxidation state, but only in the As24+ cation, As(II) is never found otherwise.
See also Arsenic compounds.