Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal and a recognized risk factor for bladder and lung cancers. It is also toxic to the human brain. Exposure to arsenic can lead to mental confusion, agitation and learning impairment. It is also possible, although not fully documented, that exposure to arsenic is responsible for symptoms of ADD and ADHD in some children who have been labeled with these conditions.
Arsenic is found in small amounts in the soil, and minute quantities can be detected in fruits and vegetables, especially those sprayed with certain pesticides. The largest source of exposure to arsenic is through wood used in home construction, which is treated with an arsenic-containing pesticide. Construction workers are especially at risk.
The same type of wood has also been used to make playground sets, leading to increased exposure for children. As a population group, they may be more vulnerable to neurological damage from arsenic and other heavy metals. Children who tend to place their hands or various objects in their mouths are thought to be at greatest risk.
Although arsenic-containing wood is supposed to be gradually phased out, it is still in use. You can read more about this topic in the February 8, 2003 issue of The New York Times or online at www.nytimes.com (search the archives for “arsenic”).