Pollutant Information: Arsenic 

About Arsenic

Category: Heavy metals and base cations

Acute exposure to high levels of arsenic via the inhalation of dust or fumes leads to gastrointestinal effects such as nausea, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Chronic inhalation exposure to inorganic arsenic is associated with irritation of the mucous membranes as well as being strongly associated with lung cancer. Emissions have declined by 80% since 1970.

Historically the largest source of emissions was coal combustion with other sources being very small by comparison. Coal use has declined, in favour of natural gas use. Emission rates are typically higher for domestic and commercial combustion, and smaller industrial processes, compared with power stations; this is due to the different levels of abatement of emissions that occur. There was a further decrease in emissions between 2009 and 2012 due to reductions in energy demands because of the economic downturn. The largest source of arsenic emissions in 2015 is from open burning of treated wood (55% of 2015 emissions). The emissions from this source has been assumed to remain at a constant level each year, but its share of total emissions has increased significantly since 1970 due to the reductions in emissions from other, regulated sectors. Iron and steel production is the next most significant source, contributing 27% of emissions in 2015.

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Time series graph


Notable events

Start year End year Sector Information Impact
1984 1985 Public Electricity and Heat Production Miners strike resulting in a reduction in the consumption of coal and an increase in the consumption of alternative fuels in power stations for that year. Decrease in emissions
2009 2012 Public Electricity and Heat Production The economic downturn has caused significant reductions in energy demands and many industries have made cut backs or closures, resulting in reduced emissions. Decrease in emissions
2010 2012 Public Electricity and Heat Production As a result of the economic downturn the drive to cut energy costs has resulted in an increase in solid fuel use, particularly in 2012 some coal-sensitive pollutants have seen a significant rise in coal burning emissions. Increase in emissions

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