Arsenic

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In 2011 to 2012, the urinary (creatinine corrected) concentration of arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older was 50.3 µg/g.

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Introduction

Arsenic is a tasteless, odorless element in the environment that can be found naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and in plants and animals. It can also be released into the environment from some agricultural and industrial sources.

Arsenic is usually part of chemical compounds, including inorganic compounds (combined with oxygen, iron, chlorine, and sulfur), and organic compounds (combined with carbon and other atoms).

Inorganic arsenic compounds are found in industry, in building products (in some “pressure-treated” woods), and in arsenic-contaminated water. Soil and water contamination also can occur as a result of mining and smelting activities. Past use of arsenic-containing herbicides has resulted in soil contamination and some food crops grown in these soils take up the arsenic. Inorganic arsenic compounds are more toxic than organic arsenic compounds, and inorganic arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate.

We typically take in small amounts of inorganic arsenic in the food we eat (in particular, rice and fish), the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Arsenic also is present in tobacco smoke. People may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic at work in certain industries, but such exposures are now rare in the United States. People may also be exposed to greater amounts of arsenic if they live near current or former industrial or agricultural sources of arsenic, live in areas where arsenic is naturally high in drinking water, or eat a lot of seafood (although the organic form predominantly found in seafood is likely to be much less harmful). A major dietary source of inorganic arsenic includes rice and rice products.

Both short- and long-term exposure to arsenic can cause health problems. Breathing in high levels of arsenic may cause a sore throat and irritated lungs. Swallowing high levels of arsenic can be fatal. Exposure to lower levels of arsenic over longer periods of time can result in liver and kidney damage. Moreover, arsenic and cigarette smoking exposure act synergistically to increase the incidence of lung cancer.

Examination of arsenic is new to the Cancer Trends Progress Report this year.

Measure

We present exposure data on the 95th percentile of the population, representing people with the greatest exposure. The 95th percentile level means that 95% of the population has concentrations below that level. Public health officials use such reference values to determine whether groups of people are experiencing an exposure that is unusual compared with an exposure experienced by the rest of the population. [Citation]

To calculate whether the differences between 95th percentiles for two different time points is statistically significant, we used a different statistical methodology than that used by the National Center for Environmental Health, who publishes the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals from where our data are derived. Our estimates may differ slightly from those in the original report due to differences in statistical procedures used. [Methodology]

Healthy People 2020 Target

Level of urinary total arsenic (creatinine corrected) for 95 percent of the population aged 6 years and older to below 35.28 µg/g of creatinine.

Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Data Source

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Trends and Most Recent EstimatesHelp with navigating the graphs and data tables

By Sex

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by sex, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by sex, 2003-2012 Both SexesClick to see the detailed trend graph for Both Sexes 50.3 (43.2 - 60.1)
MaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Male 50.2 (33.7 - 68.6)
FemaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Female 50.5 (43.5 - 72.6)

By Race/Ethnicity

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2003-2012 All RacesClick to see the detailed trend graph for All Races 50.3 (43.2 - 60.1)
Non-Hispanic WhiteClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic White 46.1 (36.1 - 53.3)
Non-Hispanic BlackClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic Black 54.7 (36.2-73.8)
HispanicClick to see the detailed trend graph for Hispanic 37.2 (28.3-47.2)

By Age

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by age, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by age, 2003-2012 Ages 6-11Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 6-11 86.7 (27.7 - 118.9)
Ages 12-19Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 12-19 34.7 (21.1 - 137.5)
Ages 20+Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 20+ 49.2 (43.5 - 58.5)

By Poverty Income Level

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by poverty income level, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 6 years and older by poverty income level, 2003-2012 < 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for < 200% of the federal poverty level 38.9 (32.1 - 48.0)
>= 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for >= 200% of the federal poverty level 53.1 (43.7 - 79.2)

By Education Level

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2003-2012 Less than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Less than High School 68.4 (36.6 - 94.4)
High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for High School 39.8 (36.1 - 53.1)
Greater than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Greater than High School 49.8 (43.4 - 63.9)

By Smoking Status

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 20 years and older by smoking status, 2003-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Microgram/gram creatinine (µg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (µg/g of creatinine) of total arsenic among persons aged 20 years and older by smoking status, 2003-2012 Non-SmokerClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Smoker 52.6 (45.8 - 68.8)
SmokerClick to see the detailed trend graph for Smoker 30.7 (24.7 - 43.2)

Additional Information on Arsenic

For the public

For health professionals

Scientific reports

Year Range

2003-2012

Recent Summary Trend Year Range

2007-2012

Summary Tables

Chemical Exposures

Recent Summary Trend

Stable

Desired Direction

Falling