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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Arsenic Contamination in an Abandoned Building -- Ohio

Investigators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently re-evaluated residual arsenic contamination in an abandoned building in Norwood, Ohio (1). At the request of the local health department, NIOSH had evaluated the same building in 1974 and found it highly contaminated by an arsenic trioxide rodenticide that had been mixed and packaged in the building nearly 40 years earlier.

On October 22, 1981, NIOSH investigators collected 14 dust samples from the floor, walls, and ceiling beams throughout the building and analyzed them for arsenic content by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Six samples from the floor contained from 3% to 41% arsenic by weight (30,000 to 410,000 parts per million). Five wipe samples from wall surfaces contained from 0.5 to 310 ug of arsenic per square inch of surface area, and three wipe samples from ceiling-beam surfaces contained from 130 to 2100 ug of arsenic per square inch. (Normal levels are 0.5 ug.) The highest arsenic concentrations were found in the northeast quadrant of the building--the area where the mixing and packaging had reportedly been done.

On February 2, 1982, NIOSH presented the results to the Norwood City Health Department with recommendations for decontamination and guidelines for protection of workers during decontamination. Reported by Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Br, Div of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, NIOSH, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Although most occupational exposure to arsenic is by inhalation, it can also occur through ingestion or skin absorption. Once absorbed, arsenic is widely distributed throughout the body tissues, including the liver, other abdominal viscera, bone, and skin.

Chronic exposure to arsenic, particularly to the trivalent form, manifests itself by: weakness, weight loss, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, skin disorders, hair loss, abdominal pain, pleuritis, and peripheral neuritis. Numerous studies indicate that arsenic compounds, including arsenic trioxide, can cause cancer of the skin, liver, lung, and possibly the lymphatic system (2,3).

Arsenic rodenticides are generally effective against Norway and roof rats, but not against house mice. This lack of broad-spectrum effectiveness, coupled with the inherent toxicity of arsenic compounds to man, has led to a decline in the use of arsenic as a rodenticide (4). In August 1967, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned arsenic trioxide for home use in concentrations


To protect workers removing arsenic from a contaminated building, NIOSH recommends the following procedures:

  1. The interior of the building should be decontaminated by collecting all loose material, debris, etc., with particular attention to material of a gray to white color, which should be packaged and secured for disposal according to EPA hazardous waste disposal guidelines (5).

  2. Workers involved in decontamination should be adequately safeguarded against exposure to the arsenic-laden material by air-supplied respirators and disposable full-body protective clothing, including hoods, gloves, and footwear.

  3. The effectiveness of the decontamination should be assured by the EPA-recommended toxicity test extraction procedure to define those structures, material, etc., that should be classified and handled as hazardous waste (6).


  1. Boiano J. Health hazard evaluation--Norwood, Ohio. Cincinnati: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1982. (Report no. HETA 82-017-1067).

  2. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Criteria for a recommended standard: occupational exposure to inorganic arsenic (revised). Cincinnati, Ohio: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1975. (DHEW publication no. (NIOSH) 75-149).

  3. Landrigan PJ. Arsenic--state of the art. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1981:2;5-14.

  4. Lisella FS, Long KR, Scott HG. Toxicology of rodenticides and their relation to human health. Journal of Environmental Health 1970;33:231-7.

  5. Environmental Protection Agency. Hazardous waste managemenmt system. Standards applicable to generators of hazardous waste. Federal Register 1980;45:33140-8.

  6. Environmental Protection Agency. Hazardous waste management system. Identification and listing of hazardous waste. Federal Register 1980;45:33083-133.

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