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What is arsenic – and how are we exposed to it?

Arsenic is a substance found in rocks and soil that occurs naturally. You can be exposed to many forms of it. Arsenic is grouped into 2 categories:

  • organic (meaning that it is combined with carbon)
  • inorganic (meaning it is not combined with carbon)

Organic arsenic, such as that found in fish, is considered safe. Inorganic arsenic is not.

Arsenic in water

Canadians may consume arsenic from their municipal drinking water or private well water. Usually these levels are very low, but some areas of Canada have higher levels of arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic gets into drinking water either from natural sources, such as rocks and soil, or by contamination from certain types of mining, smelting or manufacturing plants.

Showering, bathing, swimming and other activities involving water are not believed to be harmful because arsenic is not absorbed through the skin.

Other ways you might be exposed

You may also be exposed to arsenic from some wood preservatives or by breathing in pollution from certain types of mining, smelting or manufacturing plants that release arsenic into the air. This exposure is usually at lower levels than drinking water that contains arsenic.

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