Arsenic | Descriptions, Chemical and Physical Properties, Uses & Facts

Arsenic | Descriptions, Chemical and Physical Properties, Uses & Facts

Arsenic: Unraveling Its Properties, Uses, and Impact on Water


Arsenic, symbolized as As on the periodic table, is a captivating element with a rich history and a complex nature. Let's delve into the world of arsenic, exploring its atomic intricacies, chemical properties, compounds, occurrences, and the significant role it plays in our lives.

Atomic Basics:

Arsenic, with an atomic number of 33, sits in Group 15 of the periodic table, nestled between phosphorus and antimony. It boasts an atomic mass of approximately 74.92 atomic mass units. Its electron configuration is 1s² 2s² 2p⁶ 3s² 3p⁶ 4s² 3d¹⁰ 4p³, indicating a valency of -3, 0, +3, and +5.

Chemical and Physical Properties:

Arsenic exhibits both metalloid and non-metal properties, making it a unique and versatile element. In its elemental form, arsenic can appear in various allotropes, including yellow, black, and gray arsenic, each with distinct physical properties. Notably, arsenic is a poor conductor of electricity, which aligns with its non-metal character.

Reactivity and Compounds:

Arsenic can form compounds with a wide array of elements. Notable reactions include its affinity for oxygen, forming arsenic oxide when exposed to air. Arsenic also reacts with metals to form arsenides. Sodium arsenate, a well-known compound, is formed when arsenic reacts with sodium.

Arsenic in Water:

One of the pressing issues associated with arsenic is its presence in water sources. Natural processes and human activities can introduce arsenic into groundwater, posing severe health risks when consumed. Chronic exposure to arsenic-contaminated water is linked to various health problems, including skin lesions, cancers, and cardiovascular issues.

Sodium Arsenate:

Sodium arsenate, Na₃AsO₄, is a significant compound with applications in insecticides and herbicides. Its role in agriculture, while effective, raises environmental concerns due to the toxicity of arsenic.

Arsenic Acid:

Arsenic acid, H₃AsO₄, is another important compound formed by the reaction of arsenic with strong oxidizing agents. Its applications span industries like metallurgy and glass manufacturing.

Occurrence and Production:

Arsenic is found in nature, often associated with minerals like arsenopyrite. Mining and smelting activities contribute to its release into the environment. Industrial processes, such as the production of electronics and metal alloys, also play a role in arsenic production.

Arsenic Uses:

The applications of arsenic are diverse. Historically, it was used in medicines, but due to its toxicity, its use has diminished. Arsenic compounds find applications in wood preservation, glassmaking, and the semiconductor industry. Its role in agricultural chemicals raises concerns about environmental impact.

Arsenic Facts:

  • Arsenic has been known since ancient times, and its name is derived from the Greek word "arsenikon," meaning yellow orpiment.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte is believed to have been poisoned with arsenic during his exile.
  • The use of arsenic in cosmetics and medicinal tonics was prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


Arsenic, with its dual nature as a metalloid and non-metal, presents a scientific paradox. Its importance in various industries, coupled with environmental and health concerns, highlights the need for responsible usage and effective mitigation strategies. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of arsenic, it is crucial to balance its benefits with the potential risks it poses to both human health and the environment.

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