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 poisoning kills by allosteric inhibition of essential metabolic enzymes, leading to death from multi-system organ failure. It primarily inhibits enzymes that require lipoic acid as a cofactor, such as pyruvate and alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase. Because of this, substrates before the dehydrogenase steps accumulate, such as pyruvate (and lactate). It particularly affects the brain, causing neurological disturbances and death.
Chemical and synthetic methods are now used to treat arsenic poisoning. Dimercaprol and Succimer are chelating agents which sequester the arsenic away from blood proteins and are used in treating acute arsenic poisoning. The most important side-effect is hypertension. Dimercaprol is considerably more toxic than succimer.
In the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, Keya Chaudhuri of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata, and her colleagues reported giving rats daily doses of arsenic in their water, in levels equivalent to those found in groundwater in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Those rats which were also fed garlic extracts had 40 per cent less arsenic in their blood and liver, and passed 45 per cent more arsenic in their urine. The conclusion is that sulfur-containing substances in garlic scavenge arsenic from tissues and blood. The presentation concludes that people in areas at risk of arsenic contamination in the water supply should eat one to three cloves of garlic per day as a preventative. Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, DOI see: 10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.108
The LD50 for pure arsenic is 763 mg/kg (by ingestion) and 13 mg/kg (by intraperitoneal injection). For a 70 kg (~155 lb) human, this works out to about 53 grams (less than 2 ounces). However, compounds containing arsenic can be significantly more toxic.
Nearly all reported arsenic poisonings were not caused by pure arsenic, but by arsenic-oxygen compounds, especially arsenic trioxide, which is approximately 500 times more toxic than pure arsenic, and by arsine.
Some pigments, most notably the popular Emerald Green (known also under several other names), were based on arsenic compounds. Overexposure to these pigments was a frequent cause of accidental poisoning of artists and craftsmen.
Effects include changes in skin color, formation of hard patches on the skin, skin cancer, lung cancer, cancer of the kidney and bladder, and can lead to gangrene. The World Health Organization recommends a limit of 0.01 mg/L (10ppb) of arsenic in drinking water. This recommendation was established based on the limit of detection of available testing equipment at the time of publication of the WHO water quality guidelines. More recent findings show that consumption of water with levels as low as 0.00017mg/L (0.17ppb) over long periods of time can lead to arsenicosis.
Non-carcinogenic chronic effects include liver injury—jaundice and cirrhosis;—peripheral vascular disease involving blueness of the extremities; Raynaud's syndrome; blackfoot disease (a type of gangrene); anemia, resulting from impaired heme biosynthesis; and hyperkeratosis of the skin.
There are also multiple lines of evidence for the carcinogenic effects of arsenic.
Arsenic has been known to cause many problems in Third World countries where groundwater supplies have been contaminated by arsenic derived from geologically recent fluvial deposits containing arseno-pyrites. This is a particular problem in Bangladesh where tube wells installed since the 1970s have intercepted ground waters flowing in the fluvial deposits. Concentrations in these wells can exceed 1 part per thousand whereas the WHO maximum level is 10 parts per billion. See Arsenic contamination of groundwater.
Roger Smith, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology Emeritus, Dartmouth Medical School , , has confirmed that natural arsenic contamination of drinking water has also been a problem in wells in New Hampshire. Chronic low-level arsenic poisoning, or arsenicosis, as is seen in Bangladesh, can potentially cause cancer.
Arsenic became a favorite murder weapon of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, particularly among ruling classes in Italy, notably the Borgias. Because the symptoms are similar to those of cholera, which was common at the time, arsenic poisoning often went undetected. By the 19th C., it had acquired the nickname "inheritance powder," perhaps because impatient heirs were known or suspected to use it to ensure or accelerate their inheritances. Elizabeth Báthory is also suspected of having used arsenic to poison male lovers so that they could never leave her, probably as a result of her first husband having an affair.
In ancient Korea, and particularly in Joseon Dynasty, arsenic-sulfur compounds have been used as a major ingredient of sayak (사약; 賜藥), which was a poison cocktail used in capital punishment of high-profile political figures and members of the royal family. Due to social and political prominence of the condemned, many of these events were well-documented, often in the Annals of Joseon Dynasty; they are sometimes portrayed in historical television miniseries because of their dramatic nature.
On April 27, 2003, sixteen members of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, became ill following the church coffee hour; one died a short time later. Investigation revealed that the coffee had been heavily laced with arsenic. As of the 2005 publication of Christine Ellen Young's A Bitter Brew, no one had been formally charged with the crime. However, the Discovery Health channel (date?) reported that Daniel Bondeson, who was found with bullet wounds to his chest at a farm, wrote a note saying that he was responsible for the poisoning. He succumbed to the injuries while undergoing surgery.
Murder mystery stories often feature arsenic poisoning, although they commonly omit the more disagreeable symptoms.
In 1968, however, Hall's biographer Chauncey C. Loomis, a professor at Dartmouth College, traveled to Greenland to exhume Hall's body. Due to the permafrost, Hall's body, flag shroud, clothing and coffin were remarkably well preserved. Tissue samples of bone, fingernails and hair showed that Hall died of poisoning from large doses of arsenic in the last two weeks of his life, consistent with the symptoms party members reported. It is possible that Hall dosed himself with quack medicines which included the poison, but it is more likely that he was murdered by Dr. Bessels or one of the other members of the expedition.