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arsenic and compounds of arsenic

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
5.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
5.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
5.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Pure arsenic is a grey coloured "metalloid" (a substance which has properties typical of both metals and non-metals). Compounds of arsenic occur in the environment in a variety of forms; as crystals, powder, porous, and glass-like. They are both inorganic and organic (carbon-containing). Inorganic arsenic compounds are usually stable solids, with variable solubility in water. Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, as well as being released as a result of man's activities.
What is it used for?
Compounds of arsenic are used in the manufacture of wood preservatives, in agricultural pesticides and insecticides, glass / metal processing and bronzing.
Where does it come from?
The major man-made release of arsenic into the environment is from the burning of arsenic-rich coal - particularly from power stations. This has however decreased with the reduction in coal use over the last 20 years. Contaminated drainage waters from mines have also polluted water bodies in the past. Arsenic compounds are also found naturally at low concentrations in soils and water body sediments.
How might it affect the environment?
Arsenic is toxic to wildlife in the vicinity of its release. It also persists in the environment and accumulates in living organisms. Arsenic compounds are not however thought to pose a threat at a wider global environmental scale.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Arsenic compounds (particularly the inorganic forms) are toxic to humans. Exposure to extremely high levels of arsenic is fatal. Exposure to high levels following an accidental release or in occupational settings may induce vomiting and diarrhoea and blood vessel or cell damage. Direct contact with the skin can cause burning and irritation. Long-term exposure to some arsenic compounds has been linked to skin and lung cancers.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
In the UK (including Scotland), legislation controlling releases of dangerous substances to surface waters cover arsenic compounds (SI 1997/2560). Relevant European Directives include those concerning pollution of the aquatic environment (76/464); and restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances (76/769/EEC). At an international level, emissions of arsenic are controlled through the Basel Convention on transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal; and the OSPAR convention which protects the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic.