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The environmental geochemistry of Arsenic – An overview

January 1, 2014

Arsenic is one of the most prevalent toxic elements in the environment. The toxicity, mobility, and fate of arsenic in the environment are determined by a complex series of controls dependent on mineralogy, chemical speciation, and biological processes. The element was first described by Theophrastus in 300 B.C. and named arsenikon (also arrhenicon; Caley and Richards 1956) referring to its “potent” nature, although it was originally considered an alternative form of sulfur (Boyle and Jonasson 1973). Arsenikon is believed to be derived from the earlier Persian, zarnik (online etymology dictionary, It was not until the thirteenth century that an alchemist, Albertus Magnus, was able to isolate the element from orpiment, an arsenic sulfide (As2S3). The complex chemistry required to do this led to arsenic being considered a “bastard metal” or what we now call a “metalloid,” having properties of both metals and non-metals. As a chemical element, arsenic is widely distributed in nature and can be concentrated in many different ways. In the Earth’s crust, arsenic is concentrated by magmatic and hydrothermal processes and has been used as a “pathfinder” for metallic ore deposits, particularly gold, tin, copper, and tungsten (Boyle and Jonasson 1973; Cohen and Bowell 2014). It has for centuries been considered a potent toxin, is a common poison in actual and fictional crimes, and has led to significant impacts on human health in many areas of the world (Cullen 2008; Wharton 2010).

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title The environmental geochemistry of Arsenic – An overview
DOI 10.2138/rmg.2014.79.1
Authors Robert J. Bowell, Charles N. Alpers, Heather E. Jamieson, D. Kirk Nordstrom, Juraj Majzlan
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry
Index ID 70159889
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program