Arsenic occurrence in Brazil and human exposure


Environmental exposure to arsenic (As) in terms of public health is receiving increasing attention worldwide following cases of mass contamination in different parts of the world. However, there is a scarcity of data available on As geochemistry in Brazilian territory, despite the known occurrence of As in some of the more severely polluted areas of Brazil. The purpose of this paper is to discuss existing data on As distribution in Brazil based on recent investigations in three contaminated areas as well as results from the literature. To date, integrated studies on environmental and anthropogenic sources of As contamination have been carried out only in three areas in Brazil: (1) the Southeastern region, known as the Iron Quadrangle, where As was released into the drainage systems, soils and atmosphere as a result of gold mining; (2) the Ribeira Valley, where As occurs in Pb-Zn mine wastes and naturally in As-rich rocks and soils; (3) the Amazon region, including the Santana area, where As is associated with manganese ores mined over the last 50 years. Toxicological studies revealed that the populations were not exposed to elevated levels of As, with the As concentrations in surface water in these areas rarely exceeding 10 μg/L. Deep weathering of bedrocks along with formation of Fe/Al-enriched soils and sediments function as a chemical barrier that prevents the release of As into the water. In addition, the tropical climate results in high rates of precipitation in the northern and southeastern regions and, hence, the As contents of drinking water is diluted. Severe cases of human As exposure related to non-point pollution sources have not been reported in Brazil. However, increasing awareness of the adverse health effects of As will eventually lead to a more complete picture of the distribution of As in Brazil.

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    More recently, a new regulation was adopted by CONAMA (National Council for the Environment), Resolution 357 of March 17, 2005, which lowers the total As upper limit in fresh water to 10 μg As/L for some rivers and to 33 μg As/L for others.


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The authors wish to express their gratitude to all colleagues and students that we dealt with during the last years for their major contribution to medical geology studies in Brazil. The anonymous review work of two SEGH referees was deeply appreciated. Research funds were provided by FAPESP (Grant 2002/0271-0) and CNPq (The Brazilian National Research Council).

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Correspondence to Bernardino Ribeiro de Figueiredo.

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de Figueiredo, B.R., Borba, R.P. & Angélica, R.S. Arsenic occurrence in Brazil and human exposure. Environ Geochem Health 29, 109–118 (2007).

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  • Arsenic
  • Brazil
  • Environment
  • Geochemistry
  • Human health