Frequent Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Why is ATSDR involved?
In October 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) requested ATSDR to evaluate soil samples collected at residential properties at Arsenic Mine Site to determine if prompt action was necessary to reduce harmful exposure to arsenic in soil.
- What did ATSDR evaluate? ATSDR and NYSDOH evaluated shallow soil samples collected by USEPA in 2017 and 2018 at all residential properties to assess the public health implications of exposures to arsenic in soil. Only samples analyzed at USEPA certified contract laboratories were evaluated, X-ray fluorescence (field data) were not used in the health evaluation as those results vary based on soil composition.ATSDR and NYSDOH did not evaluate other possible sources of arsenic exposure, such as inhalation of contaminated soil or dust, consumption of untreated drinking water, consumption of home raised animal products, or consumption of fruits and vegetables grown in arsenic contaminated soil. Consideration of these additional exposures may likely support and strengthen the conclusions established in the health consultation report.
- What is Arsenic? Arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth’s crust. In the environment, arsenic is combined with oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur to form inorganic arsenic compounds. Arsenic in animals and plants combines with carbon and hydrogen to form organic arsenic compounds.Inorganic arsenic compounds are mainly used to preserve wood. Copper chromated arsenate (CCA) is used to make “pressure-treated” lumber. CCA is no longer used in the U.S. for residential uses; it is still used in industrial applications. Organic arsenic compounds are used as pesticides, primarily on cotton fields and orchards.
- What happens to arsenic when it enters the environment?
- Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and minerals and may enter the air, water, and land from wind-blown dust and may get into water from runoff and leaching.
- Arsenic cannot be destroyed in the environment. It can only change its form.
- Rain and snow remove arsenic dust particles from the air.
- Many common arsenic compounds can dissolve in water. Most of the arsenic in water will ultimately end up in soil or sediment.
- Fish and shellfish can accumulate arsenic; most of this arsenic is in an organic form called arsenobetaine that is much less harmful.
- How might I be exposed to arsenic?
- Ingesting small amounts present in your food and water or breathing air containing arsenic.
- Breathing sawdust or burning smoke from wood treated with arsenic.
- Living in areas with unusually high natural levels of arsenic in rock.
- Working in a job that involves arsenic production or use, such as copper or lead smelting, wood treating, or pesticide application.
- What are the short and long-term health effects of high-level arsenic exposure?
Short-term health effects (up to 14 days of exposure):
- Nausea, vomiting, headaches, stomach cramps, diarrhea, chills, sore throat, nasal discharge, and facial swelling, especially around the eyes. These effects are typically temporary and should subside when arsenic exposure stops.
Long-term health effects (365 days of exposure and longer):
- Arsenic is known to cause cancer of the skin, lung, and bladder in humans. Long-term human exposure to high levels of arsenic may also cause skin hyperpigmentation and keratosis, or a darkening and thickening of the skin on the hands and feet, as well as other adverse health effects.
- How likely is arsenic to cause cancer?
Several studies have shown that ingestion of inorganic arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer and cancer in the liver, bladder, and lungs. Inhalation of inorganic arsenic can cause increased risk of lung cancer. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the EPA have determined that inorganic arsenic is a known human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic to humans.
- Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been exposed to arsenic?
There are tests available to measure arsenic in your blood, urine, hair, and fingernails. The urine test is the most reliable test for arsenic exposure within the last few days. Tests on hair and fingernails can measure exposure to high levels of arsenic over the past 6-12 months. These tests can determine if you have been exposed to above-average levels of arsenic. They cannot predict whether the arsenic levels in your body will affect your health.
- Are there any additional public health actions planned?
- ATSDR will advise area health care providers, particularly pediatricians and family care practitioners, of the advisory and health consultation findings.
- ATSDR will provide additional community health education to advise residents on how to reduce exposures to arsenic contaminated soil.
- The ATSDR and NYSDOH will continue to coordinate with the USEPA, NYSDEC, and Putnam County Health Department (PCHD) to implement the recommendations contained in the health consultation.
- Will there be periodic follow-ups to evaluate the permanent remediation?
Yes. The NYSDOH and ATSDR will review additional USEPA-collected data (e.g., drinking water, other contaminants of concern in soil), evaluate the public health implications of additional sampling results, and recommend public health actions as needed.
- Will ATSDR check my or my child’s health or any of our medical issues?
ATSDR recommends you contact your doctor to discuss your family health concerns. ATSDR works with groups that practice environmental medicine. These groups help ATSDR teach and consult with the public about environmental issues. These groups have direct patient-care services. There may be a cost to patient care services. ATSDR can help you or your doctor by pointing you toward the groups that supply those services.
Page last reviewed: April 30, 2019
Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry