Portlanders have recently became aware that arsenic, cadmium and chromium is contaminating our community. The source of the pollution is turned off for now and we are learning about how to clean our bodies, homes and yards. This article is concerning the nature of arsenic and the risks associated with exposure. Future articles will explore how to get these chemicals out of our bodies.
Inorganic vs. Organic Arsenic
Arsenic is a trace mineral found naturally on the planet. There are two forms of arsenic and this distinction is important. The organic form is found naturally in our environment in low levels and is either non-toxic or slightly toxic to humans. Organic arsenic naturally enters our diets in very small amounts through a number of foods including seafood, mushrooms, rice and poultry.
Inorganic arsenic is highly toxic to humans. Inorganic arsenic enters our environment through a number of human activities such as manufacturing, use of pesticides and herbicides, weed killers and smoking. Here in Portland the local glass factories were emitting high levels of inorganic arsenic into the air from the dyes they were using to color glass.
Risks of Inorganic Arsenic Exposure
Exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, delirium, shock, dehydration, and death
Long term exposure to lower levers of inorganic arsenic can lead to skin changes, sensory and motor nerve defects, decreased kidney and liver function. It is associated with the development of several types of cancers including, bladder, kidney, lung and skin.