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Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

Posted June 03, 2012 8:40 AM

From Wired Top Stories:

Is arsenic the worst chemical in the world? Elemental blogger Deborah Blum investigates the effects of lethal high doses, as well as chronic low doses of arsenic and reveals the frightening fact that even in this country, millions of people may be drinking arsenic-contaminated water and could be suffering health consequences because of it.

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#1

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/03/2012 4:04 PM

I doubt it; there are probably worse chemicals. But yellow journalism is still alive and well.

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#2
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Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/03/2012 5:22 PM

GA.

I wonder what the primary chemical is in cheap ink.

(Yeah I know -- I'm too lazy to look it up right now.)

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#3

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/03/2012 10:24 PM

Surely radioactive arsenic would be worse.

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#4

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/03/2012 11:22 PM

Arsine gas is insidious. When working in a wafer fab foundry, we were told that if the person next to you suddenly drops to the floor, leave them and get out of there. They are already dead. When the gas gets into the blood stream, it causes the red corpuscles to pop like balloons.

Hydrofluoric acid, commonly used to etch circuits into semiconductor wafers, is no picnic either. It goes through the skin and bones like a sieve and destroys marrow. Death is usually within 24 hours and is extremely painful. It is considered untreatable in almost all cases.

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#5

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 12:42 AM

"investigates the effects of lethal high doses" Am I missing something? Isn't the effect of a "lethal dose" of anything well established?

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#6

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 2:03 AM

It's all relative. Check out thallium or osmium. Nitrogen can kill you if you get enough. Oxygen will kill you if you get too much. Arsenic is considered an essential trace element in the mammalian diet. Small amounts of arsenic will cure your acne. Gold and silver are toxic if they get into your blood. Too much iron is also toxic(hemochromatosis). Copper can kill you, and you won't be any less dead than if you had ODed on arsenic. Practically every element in the periodic table can be toxic under the right(?WRONG?) conditions. Beryllium produces a fatal condition(berylliosis) if you inhale fine particles of it or its salts, but you can eat the salts and they won't have a toxic effect - they even taste sweet, which is why beryllium was originally called glucinium(after glucose). Early chemists tasted everything.

On the subject of arsenic contaminated water, we will never be able to say absolutely, and truthfully, that any water is uncontaminated with arsenic. If a large quantity of water had only a single atom of arsenic in it, it would be contaminated, and our most sensitive analytical instruments would be unable to quantify the level of contamination. Even with two atoms.

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Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 4:40 AM

Yes, there are a lot of things that can kill you and in a dramatic way. However, arsenic has one peculiar trait: I kills everything. Mammals, amphibians and reptiles, all plant life, all bacteria, all fungus, all viruses, even prions. If it's alive, arsenic kills it. Arsenic kills by taking any and all proteins apart.

Additionally, recent research has discovered that even very small amounts (picograms) are lethal because it enters cells and aggressively stops several processes that help make the replication of DNA occur correctly.

So, I guess there's poison, then there's poison. Depends on how you look at it.

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#8

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 7:17 AM

While arsenic is no picnic, my vote for the worst chemical in the world would be something like Tabun or Sarin or one of an assorted handful of other little nasties we've cooked up for warfare.

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Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/05/2012 6:36 AM

Yeah, but while it may kill you and some bugs, it won't harm plant life or a lot of different animals.

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#9

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 12:24 PM

You are all sadly mistaken. The worst chemical in the world is the one you were just exposed to...hypothetically of course.

Just like when flying in a fighter plane, the fastest one is definitely the one on your "6".

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#10

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 1:15 PM

So the article states...

...had been set at a dose of 100 ppb...

I'm no doctor, but ppb is a concentration, not a dose. A dose would be measured in units of something like mg/kg-day.

Perhaps there is useful information in the research, but reading things like that provides no useful information and as far as I'm concerned is nothing more than a scare tactic used to drum up money for further research.

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Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/05/2012 6:39 AM

Your name suits you.

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Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/05/2012 3:27 PM

Thanks.

I won't say arsenic isn't potent, far from that, but I despise articles that steer people from the truth.

Let's say I dilute my daily vitamin with 0.5mg of copper in 3.8mL of water. I now have a concentration of (0.5 mg / 3.8 mL) = 132 mg/L. The EPA has set an MCL of 1.3 mg/L for copper. Does this mean my solution, now with a copper concentration at over 100 times the EPA set MCL, is somehow ultra-toxic and worthy only of state administration to the tenants of death row?

There's a huge difference between dose and concentration. While the research is probably being done correctly and will provide some valuable insight, the uninformative reporting is less than valuable, provides little to no insight, and would only serve to scare the uneducated.

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#11

Re: Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World?

06/04/2012 6:29 PM

And all that for an inorganic atom. Organic molecules are more poisonous or useful, or whatever, by orders of magnitudes. Those are called peptides, enzymes, hormones, depending on the way they act. Not the way, they are built.

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