CAW National Council 4000
Occupational Health and Safety

Hazardous Substances:  Arsenic

The ill-health effects of arsenic are caused by inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion.

Short-Term Ill-Health Effects

Arsenic and its compounds cause a variety of short-term ill-health effects. Skin irritation develops as a result of the corrosive effects
of arsenic compounds. The moist mucous membranes are most sensitive to irritant action. The eyes, eyelids, angles of the ears,
nose and mouth are irritated by arsenic compounds. Perforations of the nasal septum may occur.

Acute poisoning is rare in industry, but it exhibits itself first by cough, chest pain and shortness of breath, then by vomiting, severe
abdominal pain and diarrhea. Headache, convulsions, muscular weakness and unconsciousness are indications that the nervous
system is affected. Death may result from a combination of fluid loss due to the vomiting and diarrhea and to central nervous
system effects.

Long-Term Ill-Health Effects

Chronic effect include dermatitis, muscular pains and weakness, diarrhea, or constipation, loss of weight, areas of numbness,
tingling followed by muscle tremours and paralysis of the limbs. Fatty degeneration of the liver, aplastic anaemias and bone marrow
abnormalities can also occur. It may also cause kidney and heart disease.

Arsenic causes skin cancer, lung cancer, and lymphatic cancer in humans.


ACGIH TLV 0.01 mg/m3
U.S. NIOSH recommendations .002 mg/m3.*

The NIOSH recommendation which is 5 times more stringent that the standard is intended to protect workers from arsenic’s ill-
health effects but will not eliminate the possibility of the development of cancer.


  • As with all cancer-causing agents, reducing exposure to zero is the goal. There is no safe level of a carcinogen;
  • Local exhaust system;
  • General ventilation;
  • Supplied-air respirator with protective clothing supplied and cleaned daily. Workers should shower before changing into
    street clothes.

Source:  CAW Health, Safety & Environment Department