Arsenic is an element that can be present:
- naturally in soil, minerals and rocks
- in mine tailings, which is the waste left over from gold mining
- in insecticides. These are chemicals used to control insects.
As well as in soil, low levels of arsenic can be present in water, air and food.
We breathe in or swallow small amounts of arsenic daily, but this isn’t a risk to human health.
How exposure to arsenic can be a risk to human health
Health impacts of arsenic depend on how much a person takes in over time and in what form.
Small amounts of arsenic taken in over long periods don’t impact human health.
Medium amounts of arsenic taken in over long periods may cause:
- skin conditions
- damage to major organs
- some types of cancer.
Large amounts of arsenic taken in over a short time may have severe health impacts, including:
- stomach pain
- damage to blood cells and nerves.
Large amounts of arsenic taken over a short time can also cause death.
Contact a doctor or call 000 if someone takes in a large amount of arsenic in a short period.
What to do if you live near mine tailings
Mine tailings, the waste from gold mining, often have large amounts of arsenic. Fruit and vegetables grown on land that has mine tailings may also contain arsenic. This presents a risk to human health.
Contact the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for information about active gold mining sites.
Are you living in an area with mine tailings? (publication 1706) can help you find out whether you live near mine tailings.
Find out more about environmental public health related to pollution and waste
Reviewed 16 March 2021