Arsenic is well absorbed via the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and parenteral routes and may be absorbed through damaged skin. Owing to its water solubility, pentavalent arsenic (arsenate) is more readily absorbed through mucous membranes, e.g., the gastrointestinal tract, than trivalent arsenic (arsenite). Arsenite penetrates the skin more readily due to its increased lipid solubility. After absorption, arsenic localizes in erythrocytes and leukocytes or binds to serum proteins.
Within 24 h, redistribution into the liver, kidney, spleen, lung, gastrointestinal tract, muscle, and nervous tissues occurs with subsequent integration into hair, nails, and bone. Metabolism of inorganic arsenic occurs via methylation. Elimination from the blood is rapid, and excretion is predominantly renal. 13 Toxicity of the various forms is partially determined by excretory rates, with the more toxic arsenite being excreted at a slower rate than arsenate or the organic arsenical compounds. Arsenic crosses the placenta and has produced teratogenicity in both animals and humans.
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