arsenic chemical element

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element that naturally occurs within minerals and the Earth’s crust alongside sulfur and metals, and as an elemental crystal in its pure form. Arsenic is among the top 20 most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust. Arsenic has an atomic number of 33 and has the symbol As. Arsenic is a metalloid and has several allotropes, the most common of which are gray, yellow, and black.

The word arsenic comes from the Persian word “zarnikh,” which translates to “yellow orpiment.” This was translated in Greek to “arsenikon,” which is also related to the Greek word “arsenikos,” which translates to “potent” or “masculine,” according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In its pure form arsenic is a brittle, semimetallic solid with a vibrant gray hue. Arsenic sublimates under standard atmospheric pressure: the element changes directly from a solid to a gas without first becoming a liquid.

What Is Arsenic Used For?

Arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic forms. Historically, arsenic was used as a poison because it is odorless and tasteless, and therefore untraceable after the fact for many centuries. According to Live Science, some historians believe that a slow, steady dose of arsenic poisoning by someone in his cortege contributed to the death of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821.

Because of its acute toxicity to bacteria, fungi, and insects arsenic is used as a preservative for wood. For many decades chromated copper arsenate, or CCA, was the most common industrial use for arsenic.

However, after the negative effects and high toxicity of CCA were brought to light the substance was banned for use in consumer products in the United States, Europe, and many other locations. CCA is still used in some countries like Malaysia.

Alloys of arsenic are common used for multiple manufacturing and industrial purposes. Car batteries, bullets, and glass all are fused with certain alloys of arsenic, though in the case of glass the use of many of these alloys has been discontinued.

Arsenic is utilized in pyrotechnics to give added color to the flame created. Forms of arsenic can act as doping agents for products like transistors. Gallium arsenide is used in lasers to convert electricity into light.

What Is Arsenic Found In?

The most common mineral that contains arsenic is arsenopyrite, an iron arsenic sulfide. Arsenic is present in the atmosphere and can make its way into groundwater, air, and the soil. Arsenic is a central component of most plant life, and through ingesting arsenic via plants, water, or the air most animals contain trace amounts of arsenic.

Typical sources of arsenic in your diet can include shellfish, meats, rice, dairy products, cereal, chicken, and beer.

The organic, less toxic forms of arsenic are intentionally added to the feed of swine and chickens when raised for human consumption to increase weight gain and optimize efficiency.

The concentration of arsenic in food products is typically much lower than in contaminated drinking water, and much of the arsenic found in foods is the organic form, which is less harmful than inorganic compounds of arsenic.

How Does Arsenic Get Into Water?

Arsenic can find its way into your water through natural means or through methods like industrial and agricultural runoff. If you live near a manufacturing center, industrial plant, or large farm there is an elevated chance that arsenic can spread to your water supply, especially if you live in a rural community.

You’re more likely to find arsenic in water supplies surrounded by bedrock. Particularly the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Michigan are prone to high concentrations of arsenic-heavy bedrock, as are several regions in the Rockies and in the Southwest. Private well owners are most susceptible to having their water contaminated with an unsafe amount of arsenic.

Numerous activities can cause arsenic to accumulate in your private well. Nearby wood treatment, orchard spraying, or mining can lead to high levels of arsenic due to the chemicals used. Natural phenomenon like forest fires can spread ash throughout an area, which contains a large amount of arsenic. Arsenic has been found in high levels in water supplies all over the nation.

Health Effects of Arsenic in Drinking Water

Arsenic is a known poison and should be considered extremely dangerous, even in small doses. According to the Environmental Protection Agency all of the following symptoms are associated with ingesting a miniscule amount of arsenic:




Stomach pain

Partial paralysis


Discoloration and thickening of the skin

Numbness in hands and feet

Arsenic is directly linked to many forms of cancer. Consuming arsenic via groundwater, food, or by inhaling it will increase your risk for cancer in your:







According to a study conducted by Joseph D. Ayotte, et al, arsenic can negatively impact fetal growth and can be related to preterm birth. According to the World Health Organization long term exposure to arsenic can result in:

Pulmonary disease



Developmental disorders

Organ failure

Cardiovascular disease including heart attacks

In Taiwan chronic exposure to high levels of arsenic in public drinking water is linked to blackfoot disease, a severe disorder of the blood vessels that can lead to gangrene and amputation of the affected limbs. Arsenic is a very serious toxin that has immediate consequences on the health of anyone who consumes it.

How to Test Your Water for Arsenic

If you live in a state that is likely to have elevated concentrations of arsenic or if your water comes from a private well your risk for arsenic-related health problems is higher. Arsenic is odorless and tasteless: you will not notice the presence of arsenic in your water simply by consuming it.

If you get your drinking water from a private well you must be proactive and test the water yourself, as the quality of well water is not regulated by the EPA. Domestic wells near farms or industrial sites should be tested at least once a year to monitor levels of arsenic.

If you are concerned about the possibility of arsenic in your drinking water there are many options for testing. You can contact your city or county health department to request a free test be conducted of your well water. If these services are not available in your area do not worry: Pelican Water carries various types of testing kits based on your budget and needs.

In order to check for arsenic we recommend the WaterCheck 32 Test. This is the most affordable water test that will measure the amount of arsenic in your drinking water.

Once your water test arrives, follow these instructions:

  1. Carefully read the packaging to guarantee a valid sample.
  2. Follow the instructions provided to gather a water sample for testing.
  3. Using FedEx or UPS Overnight Saver, return your kit with the sample to the testing laboratory location indicated in the instructions. Note: return shipping is not included.
  4. The lab will process the results of your water test within 7 to 10 days of receiving your kit.
  5. Read your results once they have been mailed back to you.

After reading your water quality analysis report it’s best to contact the lab that conducted the testing if you have any questions. If you are still having trouble determining whether there is a dangerous level of arsenic in your drinking water contact Pelican Water directly.

Test your water for arsenic today - buy a water test kit from Pelican Water.


How to Reduce Arsenic in Drinking Water

The maximum acceptable level of arsenic in your drinking water as defined by the EPA is 10 parts per billion, or 10 micrograms per liter. If the concentration of arsenic in your private well exceeds or is at that level, you should take action to avoid any acute health issues that can arise from arsenic consumption.

Unfortunately, treating arsenic contamination on a city-wide level for affected communities would be costly. A proposed treatment plant for city-wide arsenic removal in Arizona would cost each homeowner about $80 per month.

According to the EPA the best method of reducing the arsenic in your water to safer levels is to utilize water filtration systems in your home. Many effective point-of-use (POU) systems exist that can help you treat your drinking water and neutralize the threat of arsenic contamination.

Best Water Filters for Arsenic

After testing your water for arsenic you may find that the concentration indicated on your water quality analysis report exceeds the maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per billion. In this situation, install a water filtration system to protect your loved ones from the negative health effects of arsenic:

FreshPoint Reverse Osmosis 5-Stage - Reverse osmosis water systems are designed to reduce many harmful chemicals and contaminants to deliver fresher-tasting drinking water. FreshPoint Reverse Osmosis Systems is NSF-certified to reduce harmful arsenic by 88% from your drinking water! The RO system also reduces lead, fluoride, turbidity, copper, chromium, and other common contaminants.

Some private wells are contaminated with trivalent arsenic (or arsenic-3), which must be converted into pentavalent arsenic (or arsenic-5) before being filtered by the reverse osmosis system. If you determine this is the case for your well it is recommended to use a chlorine injection system in your well before you install a reverse osmosis filter.

Check your water today for high levels of arsenic, especially if you live in rural area near farmland or use a private well. If you have any questions about our products or about protecting your family from the harmful effects of arsenic contact a Pelican Water specialist today.

Disclaimer: The information on this website has not been reviewed by the FDA. Products offered for sale herein are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease or health condition. No medical claims are being made or implied. Contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.