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Environment and Occupational Issues
- Environmental Exposure to Arsenic

Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless naturally occurring element found in the environment associated with several forms of cancer through various exposure routes.  For most people, food is the largest source of arsenic exposure with lower amounts of arsenic from drinking water (oral routes of exposure) and dust in air (inhalation exposure).

Arsenic is a non-essential trace element and toxic to humans, it is listed in the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency's Priority 1 Substance list.  It is a semi-metallic element and one of the first chemicals to be recognized as a cause of cancer in humans. Its primary source (outside of human contamination) is geological in origin.   Cancers attributed to arsenic intake include: melanoma, lung, kidney, liver, prostate and bladder
Arsenic can be found at very low levels (at a range of parts per billion - ppb) in many foods, including meat and poultry, milk and dairy products, bakery goods, cereals, vegetables, and fruits and fruit juices. These traces levels of arsenic reflect the normal accumulation from the environment. Both organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be found in food. While the levels of each depend on the type of food, inorganic arsenic is not usually found at high levels. Among foods, some of the highest levels are found in fish and shelfish; however, this arsenic exists primarily as organic compounds, which are essentially nontoxic.  There is no indication that arsenic biomagnifies or accumulates in marine fish. 

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Contributors:  Stephanie Douma

Last Reviewed:  June 8, 2012


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