Facts about Arsenic

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During the 19th century Britain and other parts of the world saw a steady rise in economic development. This era along with the rapid growth of wealth also welcomed a fall in humanity.

Every unlucky man was fed a white powder replacing salt along with his food which would eventually suck the life out of the poor man’s system just as he finished his meal. The use of this poison was most popular among heirs who were impatient to seize the wealth they thought rightfully belonged to them.

Such was the effect of this white powder!

Interestingly so, the same powder was also used in the form of pastes to treat ulcers and cancer.
Due to its therapeutic and deadly effects, this white substance was commonly called “The medicinal double-edged sword”.

The main constituent of the white powder was Arsenic. The facts about this element are given below.

1) The basic element details.
Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless semi-metal found in three allotropic forms: yellow, black and grey. It has an atomic number of 33 and is represented by the symbol “As”. Arsenic as an element is not soluble in water but Arsenic salts exhibit a wide range of solubilities depending on pH and the ionic environment.

2) There are many arsenic compounds of environmental importance.
Inorganic compounds of Arsenic include the trivalent arsenic trioxide, arsenic trichloride, arsenic trisulphide and sodium arsenite. Pentavalent ones include arsenic pentoxide, arsenic acid and sodium arsenate. Organic compounds include monomethyl-, dimethyl- and trimethylarsine, and arsenobetaine.

3) Fumes of Arsenic smell like Garlic
When Arsenic is heated, the fumes that are formed due to oxidation smell like Garlic.

4) There are stable and unstable forms of Arsenic.
Among the three common allotropes, gray, yellow, and black arsenic, Gray arsenic is the most stable form. Yellow arsenic is the most unstable and the most poisonous.

5) Arsenic has been in use since ancient times.
Arsenic has been in use by Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese civilizations. Arsenic’s name has grown from Syriac, Perisan, to Greek, and finally to Latin.

6) Arsenic can be used to strengthen alloy.
It was used during Bronze Age to strengthen the alloy. Even today it is used to harden alloys specially lead and copper.

7) Inorganic arsenic is toxic while organic arsenic is non toxic.
Inorganic arsenic is arsenic alone or combined with inorganic substances that are very toxic to most biologic systems, including humans.Organic arsenic is arsenic combined with organic substances. These may be non-toxic or far less toxic to many biologic systems.

8) Symptoms of Inorganic Arsenic Poisoning.
It can cause abdominal pain, destruction of red blood cells and shock. Diagnosis is normally by determination of inorganic and organic levels of arsenic in the blood and urine.
Treatment in acute toxic poisonings has to be done quickly and it involves removal of arsenic by dialysis, chelating agents, replacement of red blood cells, and bowel cleansing if poisoning is due to ingestion.

9) Arsenic toxicity has been found to be beneficial.
It is found to be beneficial in fighting fungus, bacteria, and insects in wood preservation. It is also used in agriculture. It is added to livestock feed resulting in higher weight animals and also helps fight disease.

10) Small Quantities of Arsenic has Medicinal purpose.
It is usedas a skin bleaching agent, for cancer treatment, and for early syphilis cure. It has also been approved as a treatment for some forms of leukemia by FDA. Recently, it has been used as an indicator in cancer-detecting PET scans as it is more readily readable than the common indicator iodine.

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