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National Pesticide Information Center

npic@ace.orst.edu

1.800.858.7378

Arsenic

arsenic in natural form

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is widely distributed in soils and minerals. Humans are regularly exposed to small amounts of arsenic in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the plants we eat. Arsenic is used as a pesticide primarily to preserve wood from rot and decay. In the past, arsenic was also used in rat poisons, ant poisons and weed killers. Old agricultural soils may contain high levels of arsenic resulting from its former agricultural uses. Airborne arsenic particles can be inhaled and they can travel long distances in the air. Most forms of arsenic tend to stick to soil or sediment particles but some can dissolve in water, possibly leaching into lakes, rivers, or ground water. Burning, sawing or sanding arsenic-treated wood can increase the chance of inhaling arsenic. Long-term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of cancer over a lifetime. Most arsenic compounds are not well absorbed by the skin so only small amounts are likely to get into your body through your skin.

If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email us at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Additional Resources on Arsenic:

Return to Information on Specific Types of Wood Preservatives

Last updated March 17, 2014