LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Vol 2 no 2 Autumn 1994  ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Arsenic and Old Lace

Extracts from a paper by Sandra Eager


Arsenic (III) oxide, the major basic chemical of arsenic industry, is emitted as a by-product in smelting, mainly copper and lead ores. It is recovered from flue dust in a reasonably pure form. Arsenic is also used in metallurgy; in the treatment of silicon; and small amounts are used in the glass and ceramics industry.


Inorganic compounds of arsenic such as arsenic trioxide, and the lead and calcium salts of arsenic and arsenous acids were once widely employed for killing rodents, termites, fungus and insect pests of crops and pastures. Today the use of these substances is either totally banned or their use is severely restricted. (Environmental Trusts & Total Environment Centre 1994)


Tobacco may also be treated with arsenic-containing pesticides. During the first part of this century, in the US, the use of arsenic-containing insecticides [eg lead arsenate] brought about a steady increase in the content of arsenic in tobacco products. In the 1950s, levels up to 52 mg/kg were reported. However, in the 20 years up to 1981, the concentrations of arsenic have decreased to below 8 mg/kg because of a great reduction of the use of inorganic arsenic compounds in agriculture. (WHO 1981)


Arsenic levels in food, with the exception of some seafood are generally well below 1 mg/kg wet weight. Certain bottom feeding fish, crustaceans and shellfish may contain arsenic concentrations of several tens of milligrams per kilogram through bioaccumulation. (WHO 1981).  Arsenic concentrations of between 0.6 and 58 mg/kg dry weight have been found in some food supplements prepared from kelp. Edible seaweed has been reported to have a mean concentration of 112 mg/kg dry weight. (WHO 1981).

Biological indicators

Biological indicators of arsenic exposure are blood, urine, and hair. Because of the short half-life of arsenic, blood levels are only useful within a few days of acute exposure but are not useful to assess chronic exposure. Urine arsenic is the best indicator of current or recent exposure to arsenic. (Klaassen et al 1986)"

 Full bibliographical details can be obtained by contacting The Lead Group Inc.

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