Arsenic cycle

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The arsenic (As) cycle is the biogeochemical cycle of natural and anthropogenic exchanges of arsenic terms through the atmosphere, lithosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Although arsenic is naturally abundant in the Earth's crust, long-term exposure and high concentrations of arsenic can be detrimental to human health.[1][2]

Reservoirs and fluxes[edit]

Arsenic biogeochemical cycle with fluxes in kg/yr and reservoirs in kg. Fluxes are depicted with black arrows, while anthropogenic fluxes are red. Fluxes are between the lithosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.[2]


Arsenic's largest reservoir on Earth is the lithosphere.[2] Earth's crust contains more than 200 mineral types containing As, including many sulfide minerals.[3] Arsenic is abundant in ore deposits containing arsenopyrite (FeAsS) and tennantite.[4] Sedimentary rocks bearing coal and shale may also contain high As.[5] Major fluxes of As from the lithosphere to the atmosphere are volcanic emissions.[2]

Soil is the second largest global reservoir of As[2] [3] Under oxic conditions, As is present in soils as arsenate (As(III)), which can bind to Fe(III) hydroxides.[2] The speciation of As in soil depends on soil pH and other factors. Acidic soils may contain arsenate bound to aluminium and iron, while basic soils may contain calcium-bound arsenate.[6] The residence time for As in soils depends on the climate type, ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 years for moderate climates.[7]


Freshwater and groundwaters commonly contain <1 ppb of As.[2] The concentration of As is pH dependent; acidic conditions mobilize As at pH <5.[2] Oxic seawater contains As(III) as arsenate (average of 1.7 ppb).[8] Major sinks include sedimentation and subduction.[2]


Arsenic is naturally present in the biosphere, with highest concentration in plant roots. Terrestrial plants can contain up to 200 ppm (parts per million) As.[6][7][9] Marine organisms (e.g. Annelida and Echinodermata) contain 6-8 ppm.[7] The human body also contains trace As with highest concentrations in the kidneys and liver (up to ~1.5 ppm).[7]

Anthropogenic emissions[edit]

Human use arsenic in pesticides, wood preservatives, metal treatment, paint, and coal-based power plants.[2] Anthropogenic residues and discharges from coal-based power plants, mining, and smelting can contaminate rivers, lakes, streams and soil.[1] Anthropogenic As emissions originate from steel and glass production, and forest and grassland burning.[2] In the atmosphere, As is mainly present in particulates such as dust, with a residence time of 7 to 10 days.[10][11]

Arsenic toxicity[edit]

Arsenic is a metalloid with an atomic number of 33, and its common oxidation states are +3 or +5, as arsenate(As III) and arsenite(As V).[12] Arsenic is primarily found as organic arsenic compounds, inorganic arsenic compounds, and arsine gas. Arsenic toxicity is dependent on its oxidation state; As(III) is more toxic than As(V) because of its ability to bind to thiol groups on proteins and enzymes, and its slower excretion rate from the body.[13] The World Health Organization recognizes that inorganic arsenic is extremely toxic for humans (EPA maximum of 10 ppb in water) and detrimental to aquatic life.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Masuda, Harue (2018). "Arsenic cycling in the Earth's crust and hydrosphere: interaction between naturally occurring arsenic and human activities". Progress in Earth and Planetary Science. 5 (1): 68. Bibcode:2018PEPS....5...68M. doi:10.1186/s40645-018-0224-3. ISSN 2197-4284. S2CID 53645300.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Matschullat, Jörg (2000). "Arsenic in the geosphere — a review". Science of the Total Environment. 249 (1–3): 297–312. Bibcode:2000ScTEn.249..297M. doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(99)00524-0. PMID 10813460.
  3. ^ a b Mandal, B (2002-08-16). "Arsenic round the world: a review". Talanta. 58 (1): 201–235. doi:10.1016/s0039-9140(02)00268-0. ISSN 0039-9140.
  4. ^ WHO Arsenic Compounds, Environmental Health Criteria 224. Geneva: World Health Organization. 2001.
  5. ^ Smedley, P.L; Kinniburgh, D.G (2002-05-01). "A review of the source, behaviour and distribution of arsenic in natural waters". Applied Geochemistry. 17 (5): 517–568. Bibcode:2002ApGC...17..517S. doi:10.1016/S0883-2927(02)00018-5. ISSN 0883-2927. S2CID 55596829.
  6. ^ a b Ferguson, J (1990). The heavy elements: chemistry, environmental impact and health effects. Oxford: Pergamon Press. p. 614.
  7. ^ a b c d Bowen, H (1979). Environmental chemistry of the elements. London: Academic Press. p. 333.
  8. ^ Bruland, KW (1983). Trace elements in sea water In Riley JP, Chester R. editors. London: Academic Press. pp. 157–220.
  9. ^ Reimann, C; deCaritat, P (1998). Chemical elements in the environment. Berlin: Springer. p. 398.
  10. ^ Chilvers, D; Peterson, P (1987). Global cycling of arsenic. In: Hutchinson TC, Meema KM, editors, Lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic in the environment. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 279–301.
  11. ^ Duce, R. A.; Liss, P. S.; Merrill, J. T.; Atlas, E. L.; Buat-Menard, P.; Hicks, B. B.; Miller, J. M.; Prospero, J. M.; Arimoto, R.; Church, T. M.; Ellis, W. (September 1991). "The atmospheric input of trace species to the world ocean". Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 5 (3): 193–259. Bibcode:1991GBioC...5..193D. doi:10.1029/91GB01778.
  12. ^ Humans., IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to (2012). A review of human carcinogens. IARC. ISBN 978-92-832-1320-8. OCLC 869468074.
  13. ^ Michael., Kosnett (1990). Arsenic toxicity. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. OCLC 25527050.
  14. ^ Humans, IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to (2012). ARSENIC AND ARSENIC COMPOUNDS. International Agency for Research on Cancer.