Occurrence of arsenic contamination in Canada: sources, behavior and distribution

Sci Total Environ. 2006 Aug 1;366(2-3):701-21. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.09.005. Epub 2005 Oct 3.


Recently there has been increasing anxieties concerning arsenic related problems. Occurrence of arsenic contamination has been reported worldwide. In Canada, the main natural arsenic sources are weathering and erosion of arsenic-containing rocks and soil, while tailings from historic and recent gold mine operations and wood preservative facilities are the principal anthropogenic sources. Across Canada, the 24-h average concentration of arsenic in the atmosphere is generally less than 0.3 microg/m3. Arsenic concentrations in natural uncontaminated soil and sediments range from 4 to 150 mg/kg. In uncontaminated surface and ground waters, the arsenic concentration ranges from 0.001 to 0.005 mg/L. As a result of anthropogenic inputs, elevated arsenic levels, above ten to thousand times the Interim Maximum Acceptable Concentration (IMAC), have been reported in air, soil and sediment, surface water and groundwater, and biota in several regions. Most arsenic is of toxic inorganic forms. It is critical to recognize that such contamination imposes serious harmful effects on various aquatic and terrestrial organisms and human health ultimately. Serious incidences of acute and chronic arsenic poisonings have been revealed. Through examination of the available literature, screening and selecting existing data, this paper provides an analysis of the currently available information on recognized problem areas, and an overview of current knowledge of the principal hydrogeochemical processes of arsenic transportation and transformation. However, a more detailed understanding of local sources of arsenic and mechanisms of arsenic release is required. More extensive studies will be required for building practical guidance on avoiding and reducing arsenic contamination. Bioremediation and hyperaccumulation are emerging innovative technologies for the remediation of arsenic contaminated sites. Natural attenuation may be utilized as a potential in situ remedial option. Further investigations are needed to evaluate its applicability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Canada
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Arsenic