The info on this page is adjusted from Come learn an ext about Toxipedia’s integration right into our website, visit ours Toxipedia webpage.

You are watching: How long does it take to die from arsenic poisoning


Arsenic is a normally occuring chemical with several typical uses and a range of health and wellness impacts. Arsenic poisoning from fine water stays a serious an international human wellness concern.

People long ago recognized that depending on the dose, arsenic could either treat disease or be supplied as a poison to reason death. The medicinal usage to law syphilis and amebic dysentery finished with the advent of penicillin and other antibiotics in the twentieth century. Arsenic-based link are currently used to treat some forms of cancer. As a poison, arsenic trioxide (As2O3) has actually several preferable qualities: that looks prefer sugar and is tasteless, and also only a portion of a gram deserve to kill one adult.

Production and also Uses


Asarco research area; click to open up the EPA webpage ~ above the study

Though arsenic occurs normally in rocks and soil, the majority of arsenic released right into the environment is from industrial smelting, developed as byproduct the smelting because that copper, lead and also zinc. The last united state smelter creating arsenic closed in 1985 in Tacoma, Washington. Smelters generally released the trivalent arsenic trioxide and also lead into the atmosphere, i beg your pardon contaminated neighborhood environments and left one unhealthful tradition for regional residents. Inorganic arsenic is additionally released from coal-fired electric generation facilities.

Since US production ceased in 1985, every arsenic spend in the United states is imported. Imports that arsenic (metal and also compounds combined) have actually increased substantially due to the fact that the mid-1980s, getting to 8,810 metric loads (as arsenic content) in 2005, of i m sorry 812 metric tons was as elemental arsenic. In 2005, 11,000 metric lots of arsenic trioxide to be imported into the joined States.1

Wood Preservative

The major use of not natural arsenic has remained in wood preservation, return its use for residential woodpreservation has been phased out.2


Inorganic arsenic had actually been used as a pesticide in cotton fields and orchards, back that use was voluntarily canceled in the late 1980s and the at an early stage 1990s.3 Some forms of essential arsenic continue to be used to noodle fields. Organic arsenic link are also used as a feed additive to enhance expansion of poultry and also swine.

Other Uses

Arsenic is additionally used in the produce of silicon-based computer chip technology4 and in glass manufacture.5 elemental arsenic is provided as an alloying facet in ammunition and also solders, as an antifriction additive to steels used because that bearings, and also to combine lead-acid warehouse battery grids.6

Chemical and also Biological Properties


image native fdecomite at an innovative Commons, modified

Arsenic is a functional metal, creating various compounds, either not natural or organic. Not natural arsenic is widely dispersed in nature, commonly in the trivalent kind (As3+) but also as pentavalent arsenic (As5+). Most rocks contain one to five parts per million (ppm) that arsenic. The trivalent forms incorporate arsenic trioxide, salt arsenite and also arsenic trichloride. Necessary arsenic, much less toxic than not natural arsenic, is developed in a biomethylation process by many organisms consisting of humans and also shellfish.

Organic arsenic compounds discovered in seafood are not well absorbed, however soluble not natural arsenic compounds, such as arsenic trioxide, space readily soaked up from the intestine (80-90%). Arsenic can also be soaked up through the lungs and skin. Most of the arsenic in the blood is bound to red blood cells.

Metabolism that Arsenic

Once ingested, not natural arsenic is biotransformed by the liver come a methylated form of arsenic and also excreted in the urine v a half-life of 3 tofive days. Arsenic is additionally excreted in the outer layer the skin cells and also in sweat. Arsenic binds to sulfhydryl-containing proteins and concentrates in the hair and fingernails.

Health Effects

Acute Exposure

Ingestion the 70 to 180 mg the arsenic trioxide have the right to be fatal, but initial results may be delayed for numerous hours. Acute dental ingestion of lower doses can an outcome in this symptoms:7


image indigenous Brick Red at an innovative Commons

Irritation of your stomach and also intestines, with symptoms such together stomachache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.Decreased production of red and also white blood cells, which may reason fatigue, abnormal love rhythm, blood-vessel damages resulting in bruising, and impaired nerve role causing a "pins and also needles" sensation in your hands and also feet.

Chronic Exposure

Arsenic poisoning or arsenicosis is many often linked with drinking water contaminated through arsenic. Indications and feasible impacts of arsenic exposure:9

Skin alters including spot of darkened skin and the figure of little "corns" or "warts" ~ above the palms, soles, and torso; these are often associated with changes in the blood vessels of the skin.Skin cancerCancer that the liver, bladder, kidney or lungsPossibly diabetes, high blood pressure, reproductive disorders and also lower IQ scores

Inhaling high level of inorganic arsenic is associated with these signs and also symptoms:10

Sore throat and also irritated lungsSkin effects explained aboveCirculatory and also peripheral worried disorders

Direct skin call with high concentration of inorganic arsenic compound may cause the skin to come to be irritated, through some redness and also swelling. However, the does not appear that skin contact is likely to lead to any serious inner effects.11

Much much less is known around the health effects of essential arsenic. In animals, sloop down of methyl link can result in diarrhea, and also lifetime exposure can damages the kidneys. Life time exposure to dimethyl compounds can damage the urinary bladder and also the kidneys.12

Cancer Classification

These entities have actually classified arsenic together a reason of cancer:13

The International firm for research study on Cancer (IARC): not natural arsenic is carcinogenic to humans.The us Department of Health and Human solutions (DHHS): not natural arsenic is recognized to it is in a human being carcinogenUS EPA: arsenic is a known human carcinogen.

Vulnerable Populations

Children have greater levels of exposure, an especially if drink water concentration of arsenic are elevated, since of their smaller size and also greater intake of water family member to your size. Children additionally play in soil, put their hand in their mouths and intentionally eat soil an ext often than adults carry out on average.14 Exposures in childhood additionally afford many an ext years for long-latency diseases and disorders (such as cancer) to develop than adult exposures.

Adults who work-related in sectors that involvearsenic manufacturing or usage (copper or lead smelting, hardwood treating, or pesticide application, among others) could be exposed to elevated levels of arsenic in ~ work. Those that saw CCA-treated wood, add to all human being who live near or constant some mining and also smelting sites or agricultural areas whereby arsenic pesticides had been applied in the past might be exposed come much higher levels the arsenic 보다 others.15


The lethal dose of arsenic in humans is 2-20 mg/kg, or 140 to 1400 mg for an average-sized adult. A 140-mg potentially lethal sheep is the same as 0.145 grams. Much less than 1/8 teaspoon can be fatal come a healthy and balanced adult, while also less could kill a child, an adult v impaired health, or an elderly person.16

Background Exposures

Most human being are exposed to continuous but low levels the arsenic. Normally, background air levels are much less than 0.1 μg/m3 and also drinking water less than 5 μg/L, yet water levels have the right to be substantially higher. The full average daily exposure to arsenic is around 20 μg/day indigenous food and water (assuming 2000 mL/day mean water consumption at 5 μg/L arsenic), but this can vary significantly depending top top diet and water source.

Food Exposure

Arsenic may be present in grains, fruits, vegetables and other foods. Arsenic exposure from ingested foods usually comes from food crops grown in arsenic-contaminated soil and/or irrigated with arsenic-contaminated water.17 Most plants don’t conveniently take up lot arsenic from the ground, however rice is one exception—it takes increase arsenic native soil and water much more readily than various other grains.In addition, part seafood has high levels of less toxic necessary arsenic.18 Food usually supplies much less than 10 μg/day that arsenic but can be higher with the usage of rice and also fish, and specifically shellfish, which have the right to have arsenic levels up to 30 μg/g.

The united state Food and also Drug administration (FDA) has been security the level of arsenic in foodstuffs for decades and increased its experimentation in 2011. Arsenic level in apples have been raised as a concern, but FDA"s results have evidenced that the amount of arsenic in to apologize juice is low.19

Water Exposure

Arsenic poisoning from well water continues to be a serious global human wellness concern. 10s of millions of world in Bangladesh are approximated to have been exposed come arsenic-contaminated water,20 resulting in an approximated 24,000 deaths each year.21 civilization in Argentina, Chile and also Taiwan also have elevated arsenic in their drinking water.22 This is likewise relevant to areas of the western United claims that have actually elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water. High levels of arsenic in neighborhood soil or absent contaminate the regional water supply.

In the united States, the federal federal government struggled for years to establish standards the arsenic in drinking water. Top top January 22, 2001, EPA embraced a brand-new standard because that arsenic in drinking water that 0.01 mg/l, or 10 components per exchange rate (ppb), replacing the old conventional of 50 ppb.23

Pressure-treated Wood


image native ntm1909 at an innovative Commons

Wood treated with the pesticide chromated copper arsenate (CCA) was an initial used in the 1940s. CCA is a water-based mixture of inorganic salts that chromium, copper and also arsenic the is required into timber under pressure. Arsenic deserve to transfer to hands by direct contact. Youngsters who play on decks or other treated surfaces choose up little amounts of arsenic on their hands, indigenous which it can be transferred to food or straight from hands right into children"s mouths. The potential exposure that youngsters may get from playing in pat structures created from CCA-treated wood is usually smaller than that lock would get from food and also water.24

The quantity of arsenic in treated wood have the right to be quite large. A traditional eight-foot length of cure 2" x 4" lumber has as lot as 15 grams that arsenic. Inhaling sawdust from building with treated wood is known to be dangerous.25 Arsenic leaches from the wood with rainfall, and also contamination of soil under decks may exceed hazardous waste cleanup standards.26

Wood treated through CCA is still discovered in decks, playground equipment, outdoor furniture, fences, building and construction lumber, energy poles, piers, and pilings.In December 2003, chromated arsenicals manufacturers voluntarily discontinued production chromated arsenicals-treated wood commodities for homeowner uses. However, EPA has not prohibition chromated arsenicals and also does not call for the removal of existing structures made v wood treated v chromated arsenicals or the bordering soil.27

There space a number of arsenic-free lumber preservatives top top the industry that are registered for use in treated hardwood for residential use. CCA will certainly still be available for commercial supplies such as utility poles. The alternate wood treatment many used to replace CCA is a copper-based preservative called ammoniacal copper quaternary, or ACQ. ACQ has actually a much reduced toxicity to people than CCA.28


Cigarettes contain small amounts that arsenic, and smokers inhale part arsenic in tobacco smoke.29

Reducing Exposure

Avoid inhalation of sawdust native arsenic-treated lumber, and also never burn any kind of treated timber or sawdust.Testing the soil underneath decks and other frameworks made through treated lumber will indicate whether remediation of floor is needed.Wear gloves and also other protective garments when working with treated lumber or contaminated soil.Wash her hands after comes in call with any kind of arsenic-treated product, and supervise youngsters in washing their hands timeless after contact.

Regulatory Standards

Brief History

Arsenic has a long and also diverse history of use. It to be favored as a toxicity from roman times to the mid nineteenth century due to its absence of color, odor and flavor. Arsenic poisoning was such a widespread problem that the roman inn Consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla issued the Lex Cornelia in 82 BC outlawing arsenic poisoning. The usage of arsenic together a poison started decreasing in the 18th century, as soon as English chemist James Marsh arisen a chemical test the identifies arsenic in the body.

Two tests because that arsenic are easily accessible today. The an initial test measures the full amount the arsenic in the body, making no distinction between the harmful inorganic forms and the harmless essential form. The second test procedures only the not natural arsenic that has actually passed v the body, and is a far better indicator of overall health. Tests that measure arsenic levels in hair and also fingernail samples are also available; these may aid evaluate irreversible arsenic exposure but are not extensively used due to the fact that of troubles with accuracy.

The use of arsenic together a pesticide started in the so late nineteenth century. Though the bulk of arsenic-based pesticides are no longer used in agriculture or horticulture in the US, arsenic-based hardwood preservatives room still used in nonresidential construction.

See an ext about arsenic and health in the perform of CHE publications and Dig Deeper resources in the best sidebar.

This details was composed by Dr. Steven Gilbert of Toxipedia and updated through Nancy Hepp in august 2016.

See more: How Long Do Eggs Take To Digest ? How Long Does It Take For Boiled Egg To Digest

CHE invites our partners to submit corrections and clarifications to this page. Please include links to research study to support your submissions v the comment type on our Contact page.