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Arsenic

7. What are the effects of arsenic on human health?

  • 7.1 Can arsenic cause cancer and skin changes?
  • 7.2 What other health problems can arsenic cause?

7.1 Can arsenic cause cancer and skin changes?

The source document for this Digest states:

Effects on human health

(…) Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking-water is causally related to increased risks of cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney, as well as other skin changes such as hyperkeratosis and pigmentation changes. These effects have been demonstrated in many studies using different study designs. Exposure–response relationships and high risks have been observed for each of these end-points. The effects have been most thoroughly studied in Taiwan but there is considerable evidence from studies on populations in other countries as well. Increased risks of lung and bladder cancer and of arsenic-associated skin lesions have been reported to be associated with ingestion of drinking-water at concentrations £ 50 µg arsenic/litre.

Occupational exposure to arsenic, primarily by inhalation, is causally associated with lung cancer. Exposure–response relationships and high risks have been observed. Increased risks have been observed at cumulative exposure levels ≥ 0.75 (mg/m3) × year (e.g. 15 years of exposure to a workroom air concentration of 50 µg/m3). Tobacco smoking has been investigated in two of the three main smelter cohorts and was not found to be the cause of the increased lung cancer risk attributed to arsenic; however, it was found to be interactive with arsenic in increasing the lung cancer risk.

Even with some negative findings, the overall weight of evidence indicates that arsenic can cause clastogenic damage in different cell types with different end-points in exposed individuals and in cancer patients. For point mutations, the results are largely negative.

Source & ©: IPCS "Environmental Health Criteria for Arsenic and Arsenic compounds", 
EHC 224, Chapter 1: Summary, section 7

7.2 What other health problems can arsenic cause?

The source document for this Digest states:

Soluble inorganic arsenic is acutely toxic, and ingestion of large doses leads to gastrointestinal symptoms, disturbances of cardiovascular and nervous system functions, and eventually death. In survivors, bone marrow depression, haemolysis, hepatomegaly, melanosis, polyneuropathy and encephalopathy may be observed. (…)

Chronic arsenic exposure in Taiwan has been shown to cause blackfoot disease (BFD), a severe form of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) which leads to gangrenous changes. This disease has not been documented in other parts of the world, and the findings in Taiwan may depend upon other contributing factors. However, there is good evidence from studies in several countries that arsenic exposure causes other forms of PVD.

Conclusions on the causality of the relationship between arsenic exposure and other health effects are less clear-cut. The evidence is strongest for hypertension and cardiovascular disease, suggestive for diabetes and reproductive effects and weak for cerebrovascular disease, long-term neurological effects, and cancer at sites other than lung, bladder, kidney and skin

Source & ©: IPCS Environmental Health Criteria for Arsenic and Arsenic compounds", 
EHC 224, Chapter 1: Summary, section 7


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