Arsenic and its compounds

The substance
Pure arsenic is a grey-coloured metal but is rare in the environment. It has a crystalline, metallic-looking appearance and is odourless. Arsenic is usually found combined with one or more other elements such as oxygen, chlorine and sulphur. Arsenic compounds are naturally present in the environment at low levels. Inorganic arsenic compounds are usually solids at ambient temperatures, exhibiting low volatility and variable solubility in water.

Arsenic is used in the manufacture of wood preservatives, glass and non-ferrous alloys. The use in agricultural products (including pesticides) is banned in almost all western countries. Arsenic is also used in bronzing and pyrotechnics. The most important compounds are white arsenic, the sulphide Paris green, calcium arsenate and lead arsenate - the last three have been used as agricultural insecticides.

Major emissions
Major man-made arsenic releases are produced primarily as a by-product from the operation of copper, zinc and lead smelters. A second important emission source is the combustion of coal. Drainage water from mines (including disused mines) can be a significant source of arsenic pollution in groundwater. Environmental releases can also result from natural sources.

Impacts on human health and environment
Excessive exposure to arsenic can lead to health effects on the digestive and central nervous system, heart and kidneys and some of its compounds may cause cancer and genetic damage. Arsenic is also toxic to aquatic live. However hazards depend upon the form and bioavailability of arsenic.

Emission to air reporting threshold: 20 kg/year

Emission to water reporting threshold: 5 kg/year

Data source: European Pollutant Emission Register