Arsenicosis or arsenic poisoning happens whenever a person has taken in a dangerous amount of arsenic. Arsenic is a natural chemical that can be found at groundwater in any part of the world.
Intake can be through absorbing, swallowing, or inhaling arsenic.
If it is not treated immediately, arsenic poisoning can lead to major health issues and even death. Thus, precautions must be taken to prevent those who are at risk.
Arsenic is oftentimes associated with deliberate poisoning methods. But any person can be exposed to arsenic via contaminated groundwater, arsenic-preserved wood, rock, infected rock, or soil. Arsenic in the environment is not dangerous, per se. It is rare to have toxic amounts of arsenic found in the environment.
There are reports that arsenic is found in some bottled water in the market. Thus, in this article, we will understand what arsenic poisoning and its effects on health. We will also talk about cases of arsenic in bottled water and the things we can do to prevent it from affecting our health.
Things you need to know about Arsenic Poisoning
Arsenic is a natural chemical that can be present in groundwater. Arsenic ingestion can only pose health issues only if a dangerous quantity of arsenic has entered the body. Thereafter, poisoning can lead to liver disease, cancer, coma, or even death.
There is various treatment for arsenic poisoning, which includes bowel irrigation and chelation therapy. It is unusual to find arsenic amounts that are dangerous in the environment. The government issues areas with high levels of arsenic. Authorities issue regulations with regards to handling and preventing the risk of poisoning.
Any person who thinks that their area has high levels of arsenic should contact the authorities immediately for more information.
Arsenic is a metalloid component in our planet’s crust, which is naturally occurring. Small quantities of arsenic can be found in air, rock, water, and soil. A metalloid is a natural substance that is not totally metal, but it shares the same qualities with metals.
In some geographical regions, the concentration of arsenic is higher. This can be due to various human activities like the use of pesticides or mining. Natural conditions can also cause high concentrations of arsenic in the area.
Arsenic can be found together with other elements with different chemical compounds. Its organic forms can contain carbon, however, inorganic forms do not. Moreover, take note that you cannot dissolve arsenic in the water.
Research provides that inorganic arsenic compounds are harmful to the body versus the organic ones. They can react with the cells in the body, change its function, and displace certain elements that are found in the cell.
For example, cells use phosphate for signaling and energy generation. However, arsenate, which is a form of arsenic, can replace and imitate the phosphate found in the cell. This will impair the ability of the cell to communicate with other cells and create energy.
This ability to alter cells can be useful in treating cancer. There are studies that show that it can send cancer to remission and thin the blood. Chemotherapy, which uses arsenic like arsenic trioxide, is already been used in some patients with cancer.
Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning
Arsenic poisoning symptoms can be severe, acute, immediate, or chronic, wherein the damage can be experienced for a longer period. Indeed, the method of exposure will determine the period.
If you have swallowed arsenic, then you can experience signs and symptoms within 30 minutes. These are headaches, confusion, drowsiness, and severe diarrhea.
If you have inhaled arsenic or if you have ingested a less concentrated amount, the symptoms might take longer to develop. As it progresses, you can experience convulsions. The pigmentation of your fingernail will now begin to change.
In more severe cases of arsenic poisoning, the signs and symptoms are as follows:
- Excess saliva
- A metallic taste
- Problems swallowing
- Hair loss
- Cramping muscles
- Stomach cramps
- Excessive sweating
Arsenic poisoning can affect your skin, kidney, lungs, and liver. The complications which are linked to long-term consumption can include liver disease, cancer, diabetes, digestive difficulties, and nervous system complications. In its final stage, you can experience shock and seizures, which can lead to coma or even death.
Causes of Arsenic Poisoning
Arsenic poisoning is mainly caused by the consumption of the toxic amount of arsenic. If you accidentally consume it in large amounts, it can kill you in an instant. Meanwhile, it is consumed in smaller amounts, but over a long period, it can lead to serious health problems or death.
In some parts of the world, the main reason for arsenic poisoning is due to high levels of the toxin, which is found in the contaminated groundwater. The water underground becomes contaminated because of the rocks that release the arsenic.
According to the World Health Organization, there are around 200 million people around the world who are exposed to contaminated water with high levels of arsenic.
People who smoke tobacco can be exposed to inorganic arsenic too. This is because tobacco plants can have natural arsenic in the ground. Moreover, in the past, there is a potentially elevated risk of arsenic exposure, which is greater in tobacco plants, which were sprayed by insecticides.
Arsenic Found in the Workplace
If the workplace does not take proper safety measures, the workers may face the risk of toxicity with arsenic. These industries are smelting, glass production, wood treatment, and the company that produces pesticides.
The method of how arsenic can enter the body depends on how arsenic is being used in the industry. For example, one can inhale arsenic in the smelting industry since there is inorganic arsenic found in the coke emissions. Meanwhile, in the industry of wood treatment, you can absorb arsenic through the skin, especially if a chemical that contains arsenic will now make contact.
In the food, there can be traces of arsenic too, just like in fish, meat, and poultry products. Poultry products contain the highest amount of arsenic because of the antibiotics present in the chicken feed. Rice is also known to contain high levels of arsenic versus water.
Arsenic in Bottled Water
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides that all bottled water companies must conduct tests of their water for contaminants, which include arsenic.
In a study done of 130 bottled water brands, there are three brands that are positive to contain an excessive amount of arsenic, which can be harmful to the body. These are Jermuk, Penafiel, and Starkey Water. Penafiel or Keurig Dr. Pepper has reported that it has stopped its production in its Mexico facility. Meanwhile, there are 11 bottled water brands that contain detectable amounts of arsenic.
The government has provided a limit for arsenic in drinking water. It should be at 10 ppb only, whether from the tap or bottled water source. However, health experts and even Consumer Reports recommended that the limit for arsenic be revised to no more than 3 ppb only. Five of the bottled water brands have been reported to contain arsenic, which is more than 3 ppb.
Currently, those companies that had exceeded the federal standard of 10 ppb for the arsenic level will have to face disciplinary actions. It includes the voluntary destruction of their products or recalls.
The Magnitude of the Problem
Indeed, there is widespread contamination of arsenic in the groundwater. There are various regions that are contaminated with arsenic, and the numbers are significant. According to studies, there are at least 140 million people in more than 50 countries around the world who have been consuming water contaminated with arsenic.
Diagnosis of Arsenic Poisoning
To confirm arsenic poisoning, pathological testing is needed. In occupations and areas with a high risk of arsenic poisoning, it is essential to determine the levels of arsenic to people at risk. This can be done by assessing hair, blood, urine, and fingernail samples.
Urine tests must be done 1 to 2 days after the initial exposure to have an accurate measure when the poisoning occurred. These tests can also determine the apparent signs of arsenic poisoning.
The tests of fingernails and hair can identify the level of arsenic exposure from 1 to 12 months. The tests done can provide an accurate description of arsenic levels. However, this will not show the effects of arsenic on an individual’s health.
The treatment available for the patients will depend upon the stage of arsenic poisoning experienced. There are methods that will remove arsenic poisoning in the body before it will lead to further damage. Others will minimize or repair the damage that has been done.
Some of the treatment available will include removing the clothes which are contaminated by arsenic. It can also include blood transfusions, thoroughly washing off the affected skin, and observing kidney functions. This will also include taking heart medications whenever the heart starts failing or using mineral supplements that can lower the risk of experiencing heart rhythm problems.
Bowel irrigation can be one option too. A special solution will be passed through the gastrointestinal tract. Then, all the poison and arsenic contents will be flushed out. It will remove all the traces of arsenic, and it will prevent it from getting absorbed into the gut.
Apart from this, chelation therapy can also be used. This treatment will have to use chemicals like dimercaprol and dimercaptosuccinic acid, which removes arsenic to blood proteins.
Preventing Arsenic Poisoning
To protect yourself and your family from arsenic poisoning, there are easy steps that you can follow, such as the following:
Removing Arsenic Inside the Home
If there are confirmed unsafe arsenic levels in your area, you can purchase systems to treat your drinking water like the Berkey Products. This can help you reduce arsenic exposure and have some peace of mind. This can be a long-time solution for your home until arsenic contamination is dealt with by the authorities in your area.
Test the Nearby Sources for Arsenic Traces
Have the water be chemically examined so you can identify the poisonous sources of arsenic. You can ask the government authorities for this.
Be Careful as you Harvest the Rainwater
If you are living in areas with high rainfall, you can prevent arsenic poisoning by making sure that the collection process does not put your water at risk of developing an infection. Make sure that as you harvest water, it will not become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes.
Consider the Depth of the Water Wells
If you have a deep well, then you will be less likely to experience arsenic poisoning.
Substitute Water Source
You can substitute water sources which are high with arsenic with safe sources. Example of these is surface water and rainwater. You can use low-arsenic water for cooking, drinking, and irrigation purposes. Meanwhile, high-arsenic water can be used for flushing the toilet or cleaning.
Discriminate High and Low Arsenic Sources
You can test your water source for arsenic levels. For example, you can paint the hand pumps or tube wells with different colors to identify them. This can be a low-cost and effective means to reduce your family’s exposure to arsenic, which can be beneficial in the long run.
Install Arsenic Removal Products
Another tip is to install arsenic removal products like Berkey products. This can be domestic or centralized. See to it that you have appropriate disposal of the arsenic. Some of the technologies for arsenic removal include absorption, oxidation, coagulation-precipitation, membrane techniques, and ion exchange. Today, there are various effective and low-cost options that you can try to remove arsenic in household supplies. However, there is still limited evidence on the extent of the system when used in the long run.
Indeed, arsenic is one of the harmful chemicals in groundwater, which is a major health concern today. The authorities are doing their best to reduce exposure by setting values, reviewing evidence, and providing risk management measures to the citizens.
Millions of people around the world are exposed to arsenic, and even on bottled water. But with regular monitoring of health authorities, products have been destroyed and recalled. As consumers, we must take steps to limit exposure to this chemical and share the knowledge with our fellow loved ones.