Arsenic in Canadians
Information on human biomonitoring of arsenic in Canada with results from the Canadian Health Measures Survey.
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What is arsenic?
Arsenic (CASRN 7440-38-2) is a naturally occurring element. It exists in inorganic and organic forms, and it enters the environment through both natural and industrial processes.
Where is arsenic found?
Arsenic is present in the environment, including in soils and groundwater. It is used in manufacturing processes and can be found in textiles, paper, ceramics and explosives. It can also be found in foods, beverages and house dust.
How are people exposed to arsenic?
People are exposed to arsenic mainly by eating foods containing arsenic, such as seafood and rice. Other potential sources of exposure include drinking water, soil and air. Exposure to arsenic may be higher in people who live near a source of arsenic.
How is arsenic measured in people?
Inorganic and organic arsenic enter the bloodstream after being ingested or inhaled. Measurements of total and speciated arsenic in urine are reliable indicators of recent exposure. Arsenic species include the inorganic compounds arsenite (III) and arsenate (V). They also include the organic compounds monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), dimethylarsinic acid (DMA), arsenobetaine and arsenocholine.
What are the potential health impacts of arsenic?
Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic has been associated with decreased lung function, non-cancer skin effects and cardiovascular effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds as carcinogenic to humans. It has also classified DMA and MMA as possibly carcinogenic to humans. It has determined that other organic arsenic compounds (such as arsenobetaine) cannot be classified in terms of their carcinogenicity to humans.
What is the Government of Canada doing to lower human exposures to arsenic?
Arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds are identified as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Risk management strategies have been developed to control releases of arsenic from smelting, mining and manufacturing processes. Arsenic and its compounds are on the List of Ingredients that are Prohibited for Use in Cosmetic Products. The Food and Drug Regulations prohibit the sale of drugs containing arsenic for human use. Leachable arsenic content in a variety of consumer products is regulated under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. The sale and use of pesticides containing arsenic are regulated through the Pest Control Products Act. The Government of Canada continues to monitor and assess arsenic.
|Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS)||General Canadian population living in the 10 provinces|
|First Nations Biomonitoring Initiative (FNBI)||First Nations people living on-reserve south of the 60° parallel|
|Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) study||Pregnant women and their infants recruited from obstetric and prenatal clinics in 10 cities across Canada|
|U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)||General U.S. population|
This fact sheet presents nationally representative data from the CHMS. These data are compared with data from the FNBI, the MIREC study and the U.S. NHANES.
|Collection period||Age range (years)||Matrix||Biomarkers|
|2009–2011||3 to 79||Urine||Total arsenic, arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2012–2013||3 to 79||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2014–2015||3 to 79||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2016–2017||3 to 79||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2018–2019||3 to 79||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2008–2011||18+||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2009–2010||6+||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2011–2012||6+||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2013–2014||6+||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
|2015–2016||3+||Urine||Arsenite, arsenate, MMA, DMA|
Figure 1: Text description
|Collection period||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of inorganic arsenic were relatively unchanged in the Canadian population from 2009–2019. There was no statistically significant change over time (P = 0.927).
Canadian population, by age group
Figure 2: Text description
|Collection period||Age group (years)||Geometric mean|
|2009–2011||3 to 5||5.2|
|2009–2011||6 to 11||5.6|
|2009–2011||12 to 19||5.5|
|2009–2011||20 to 39||5.6|
|2009–2011||40 to 59||4.9|
|2009–2011||60 to 79||5.4|
|2012–2013||3 to 5||5.0|
|2012–2013||6 to 11||5.2|
|2012–2013||12 to 19||5.4|
|2012–2013||20 to 39||5.8|
|2012–2013||40 to 59||5.3|
|2012–2013||60 to 79||5.3|
|2014–2015||3 to 5||5.1|
|2014–2015||6 to 11||5.6|
|2014–2015||12 to 19||5.5|
|2014–2015||20 to 39||5.5|
|2014–2015||40 to 59||5.1|
|2014–2015||60 to 79||5.4|
|2016–2017||3 to 5||5.3|
|2016–2017||6 to 11||5.1|
|2016–2017||12 to 19||5.1|
|2016–2017||20 to 39||5.2|
|2016–2017||40 to 59||5.3|
|2016–2017||60 to 79||4.6|
|2018–2019||3 to 5||5.7|
|2018–2019||6 to 11||6.4|
|2018–2019||12 to 19||6.0|
|2018–2019||20 to 39||6.2|
|2018–2019||40 to 59||4.9|
|2018–2019||60 to 79||5.0|
Concentrations of inorganic arsenic were similar across age groups in the Canadian population.
Canadian population, by sex
Figure 3: Text description
|Collection period||Sex||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of inorganic arsenic were similar between females and males in the Canadian population.
Comparison of the general population and First Nations on-reserve population in Canada
Figure 4: Text description
|Biomonitoring initiative||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of total arsenic were higher in the general population than in the First Nations on-reserve population in Canada.
Comparison of women of child-bearing age and pregnant women in Canada
Figure 5: Text description
|Biomonitoring initiative||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of DMA were higher in women of child-bearing age in the general population than in women in the first trimester of pregnancy in cities across Canada.
Comparison of the Canadian and U.S. populations
Figure 6: Text description
|Biomonitoring initiative||Collection period||Geometric mean|
Concentrations of inorganic arsenic were similar between the Canadian and U.S. populations.
Health Canada. 2021. Arsenic in Canadians. Ottawa, ON. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/environmental-contaminants/human-biomonitoring-resources/arsenic-canadians.html
- Assembly of First Nations. 2013. First Nations Biomonitoring Initiative: National Results (2011). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Atlanta, GA, USA.
- Ettinger AS, Arbuckle TE, Fisher M, Liang CL, Davis K, Cirtiu C-M, Bélanger P, LeBlanc A, Fraser WD, MIREC Study Group. 2017. Arsenic levels among pregnant women and newborns in Canada: Results from the Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (MIREC) cohort. Environmental Research, 153: 8–16.
- Health Canada. 2013. Second Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada: Results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 2 (2009–2011). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
- Health Canada. 2015. Third Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada: Results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 3 (2012–2013). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
- Health Canada. 2017. Fourth Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada: Results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 4 (2014–2015). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
- Health Canada. 2019. Fifth Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada: Results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 5 (2016–2017). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
- Health Canada. 2021. Sixth Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada: Results of the Canadian Health Measures Survey Cycle 6 (2018–2019). Ottawa, ON, Canada.
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