Posted by: Green Knight | December 3, 2011

Git yo’ As in class

More about arsenic (As on the periodic table) that I forgot to mention.  Unlike most other metals, semi-metals, or metalloids, it’s more hazardous in the inorganic form.  When they talk about arsenic (As) III or As V, meaning valence states, or how many free electrons the atom has handy, that’s way too much chemistry for me to inflict on my reading public.  Suffice it to say that most of the time, oxides (metals that have already rusted a bit), or metals in chemical compounds, can get into your system easier than the pure stuff.  You could drink a liter of pure liquid mercury and almost all of it would pass right through your digestive tract, but don’t breathe the vapors.  Methyl mercury (again, an organic compound), would seriously mess you up.  Look up what happened in Minamata Bay in Japan in the ’50s and ’60s sometime.

There was a fracas a few years ago about arsenically-treated wood used in picnic tables in city parks, so St. Louis spent a ton of money and removed all that wood.  It’s very common to treat wood that you want to last with stuff like arsenic compounds, or copper-based ones, which aren’t so nasty, or creosote, which is really nasty and really only suitable for railroad ties or telephone poles.  It isn’t that hazardous to the public unless you grind it up and snort it.  How far do we need to go, though, ya know?  How often does little Ryan lick the picnic table vs. how often he puts shit in his mouth that’s lying on the ground?  It’s what kids DO.  Is arsenic worse than broken glass?  Well, now we’re back to acute vs. chronic, and physical vs. chemical hazards.  We all have background exposure to all kinds of stuff, and as long as it’s just background, there’s no huge cause for alarm.  I guess I partially exist to calm down the crisis du jour…just wish I got paid for it.

Anyone who does any soldering shouldn’t feel safe now that they’re phasing out solder that has lead in it, because they’re mostly replacing it with silver, which is a nice thing to have in jewelry, but is ALSO a toxic metal per the EPA, at the same exposure level as lead.  Bet ya didn’t see that one coming, eh?

Arsenic straddles the periodic table, though, and is weird because it’s more hazardous in an inorganic state than in a carbon compound.  Go figure.  Chemistry is weird, that’s why you hafta study it, because it sneaks up behind ya.  The alchemists gave us a start, and those of us who pursue the matter are just finishing the unfinishable job.


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