Arsenic's Uses

   Historical uses: Medicinal and Poison

  • Fowler’s solution used as a tonic and to treat a variety of illnesses.3 
  • Pesticide (i.e., rat poison)
    • Britain restricted access to arsenic through the Arsenic Act of 1851 because of too much misuse.1
  • Murder weapon of choice, particularly for the wealthy.

  Modern Medical Uses    
  • Arsenic trioxide used in cancer treatment (leukemia)4
  • Used in nuclear medicine (PET scans) to locate tumors.5
  • Used in veterinarian medicine as an antiparasitic and antibacterial agent.6


  • Elemental arsenic is added to other metals to form metal mixtures or alloys with improved properties. The greatest use of arsenic in alloys is in lead-acid batteries for automobiles.6
  • Arsenic compounds are used in semiconductors and light-emitting diodes.6

  • Inorganic arsenic compounds were used as pesticides (e.g., on cotton fields and in orchards) but are no longer used in agriculture.
  • Organic arsenic compounds (e.g., disodium methylarsenate (DSMA), and monosodium methylarsenate (MSMA)) are still used as pesticides.7
  • Used as a preservative for wood (i.e., wood is pressure treated with copper chromated arsenate - CCA). These wood products were used in children’s play structures, decks, fencing, picnic tables, and boardwalks.6

                            Picture source:

1 Bartrip, P. 1992 A "pennurth of arsenic for rat poison": the Arsenic Act, 1851 and the prevention     of secret poisoning. Med Hist. 36(1): 53-69.
2 Evans, Colin. The casebook of forensic detection: how science solved 100 of the world's most         baffling crimes. New York: Wiley, 1996. Print.
3"Fowler's Solution - Toxipedia." Welcome to Toxipedia - Toxipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.     <>.
4 Soignet, et al. "Complete remission after treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia with arsenic    trioxide." New England Journal of Medicine 399 (1998): 1341-1348. Print.
5 Jennewein, et. al.  "Arsenic enhances cancer imaging." Clin. Cancer Res. 1158 (2008): 1078-0432.  Print.
6 "Arsenic Toxicity Case Study: Where is arsenic found? | ATSDR - Environmental Medicine &                Environmental Health Education - CSEM." ATSDR Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease                Registry. CDC, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <>.
7 "Arsenic in the environment, Geology Department, University of Otago, New Zealand." University  of Otago, celebrating 141 years as New Zealand's first university. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr.                 2011. <                            /arsenic.html>