What It Is
There are two types: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic occurs naturally in the earth and small amounts are necessary for the body to function properly. Because the soil contains organic arsenic, many foods have traces of the metal, but it’s not considered toxic. The problem is inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen. Inorganic arsenic is released into the air by burning fuel oils and coal and also by the widespread use of weed killers and insecticides.
The wood industry is one of the biggest culprits in arsenic pollution. The industry has used arsenic to preserve wood since the 1940s. Arsenic-laced wood has been used to make an estimated 90 percent of wooden play structures, decks and picnic tables. In 2002, the EPA announced the industry decision to phase out arsenic-treated wood, but some consumer advocates assert that the agency hasn’t gone far enough.
Adults and children can absorb arsenic simply by touching wood treated with arsenic. In a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., researchers found that “the amount of arsenic wiped off a small area of wood about the size of a 4-year-old’s handprint typically far exceeds what EPA allows in a glass of water.”
Other sources of arsenic exposure include herbicides and many foods, including meat, fish, poultry and even wine. (Arsenic-containing pesticides are often sprayed on winemaking grapes.)
What It Does
The average person’s body contains about 10 to 20 milligrams of arsenic. The good news is that the body efficiently rids itself of the metal. Up to 95 percent of the arsenic the body absorbs is excreted by the kidneys and bowels. The bad news is that chronic exposure to low levels of arsenic can create problems for nearly all the organ systems and is strongly linked to lung and skin cancer.
What You Can Do
- Buy organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid insecticides and weed killers. If you must spray, avoid products that contain lead arsenate.
- If your home has arsenic-treated wood, consider replacing it with newer, healthier, arsenic-free alternatives. Keep children away from wood treated with the chemical.
- Don’t eat food directly off of picnic tables.
- Add vitamin C to your diet by upping your intake of citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers. The nutrient can help protect the body from arsenic toxicity.