Diseases Caused by Arsenic or Its Compounds

1. Introduction and Definitions

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the earth's crust. It is used in various industrial processes, including mining, smelting, and the production of pesticides, herbicides, and wood preservatives. Chronic exposure to arsenic, particularly in its inorganic form, can lead to serious health issues, including cancers, skin lesions, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. This article aims to provide comprehensive information on diseases caused by arsenic or its compounds, targeting occupational health nurses and doctors.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Arsenic exposure occurs in several forms, with inorganic arsenic compounds being the most hazardous. These compounds can be inhaled or ingested through contaminated air, water, soil, or food. Occupational exposure to arsenic is common in industries such as mining, metal smelting, and agriculture, where arsenic-containing compounds are used or produced.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of arsenic exposure, including:

  • Mining and Smelting Workers: Exposure to arsenic in ores and during the smelting process.
  • Agricultural Workers: Handling arsenic-containing pesticides and herbicides.
  • Wood Treatment Workers: Using arsenic-based wood preservatives.
  • Glass and Electronics Manufacturing Workers: Exposure to arsenic compounds used in manufacturing processes.
  • Construction Workers: Particularly those involved in demolition or renovation of buildings with arsenic-treated wood.
  • Chemical Industry Workers: Handling arsenic in the production of various chemicals.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of arsenic-related diseases can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure:

  • Acute Exposure: Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, and headache. Severe acute poisoning can lead to cardiovascular collapse, multi-organ failure, and death.
  • Chronic Exposure: Long-term exposure can cause skin changes (e.g., hyperpigmentation, keratosis), peripheral neuropathy, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and an increased risk of cancers (e.g., skin, lung, bladder).
  • Respiratory Symptoms: Including cough, shortness of breath, and increased risk of lung infections in cases of inhalation exposure.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing arsenic-related diseases involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measuring arsenic levels to assess exposure.
  • Hair and Nail Analysis: Arsenic can accumulate in keratin-rich tissues, providing a historical record of exposure.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays or CT scans to detect internal organ damage or cancers.
  • Skin Examination: For signs of arsenic-induced skin lesions and changes.

6. Treatment

Treatment for arsenic-related diseases focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of arsenic exposure is crucial.
  • Chelation Therapy: In cases of severe arsenic poisoning, chelating agents such as dimercaprol or DMSA may be used to bind arsenic and enhance its excretion.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing supportive care for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms.
  • Dermatological Treatment: For skin lesions, including topical treatments and regular monitoring for malignant changes.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor organ function, cardiovascular health, and for early detection of cancers.

7. Prevention

Preventing arsenic-related diseases involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation, enclosed processes, and proper maintenance of equipment to reduce airborne arsenic.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of arsenic-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where arsenic is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate respirators, protective clothing, and gloves.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including blood and urine tests for workers exposed to arsenic.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of arsenic and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

By understanding the risks associated with arsenic exposure and implementing effective preventive measures, occupational health professionals can significantly reduce the incidence of arsenic-related diseases and enhance the overall well-being of workers.

Workplace Exposure Limits:

Arsenic, inorganic compounds

ANTU (alpha Naphthylthiourea)