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Arsenic migration to deep groundwater in Bangladesh influenced by adsorption and water demand



The consumption of shallow groundwater with elevated concentrations of arsenic is causing widespread disease in many parts of South and Southeast Asia. In the Bengal Basin, a growing reliance on groundwater sourced below 150-m depth—where arsenic concentrations tend to be lower—has reduced exposure. Groundwater flow simulations have suggested that these deep waters are at risk of contamination due to replenishment with high-arsenic groundwater from above, even when deep water pumping is restricted to domestic use. However, these simulations have neglected the influence of sediment adsorption on arsenic migration. Here, we inject arsenic-bearing groundwater into a deep aquifer zone in Bangladesh, and monitor the reduction in arsenic levels over time following stepwise withdrawal of the water. Arsenic concentrations in the injected water declined by 70% after 24 h in the deep aquifer zone, owing to adsorption on sediments; concentrations of a co-injected inert tracer remain unchanged. We incorporate the experimentally determined adsorption properties of sands in the deep aquifer zone into a groundwater flow and transport model covering the Bengal Basin. Simulations using present and future scenarios of water-use suggest that arsenic adsorption significantly retards transport, thereby extending the area over which deep groundwater can be used with low risk of arsenic contamination. Risks are considerably lower when deep water is pumped for domestic use alone. Some areas remain vulnerable to arsenic intrusion, however, and we suggest that these be prioritized for monitoring.

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Figure 1: Arsenic adsorption in push–pull tests.
Figure 2: Arsenic adsorption in batch isotherm experiments.
Figure 3: Areas where deep, low-As groundwater is at risk of contamination.
Figure 4: Simulated groundwater [As] breakthrough by depth.


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Columbia University and the University of Dhaka’s research in Araihazar has been supported since 2000 by NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program grant NIEHS 5 P42 ES010349. Undergraduate student support was received from Barnard College and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The authors thank L. Konikow and C. Voss (US Geological Survey) for modelling advice and H. C. Siu for the grain size analysis (Bronx Science High School). This is Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory contribution number 7496.

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Authors and Affiliations



K.A.R., Y.Z., M.S., K.M.A. and A.v.G. designed the adsorption studies. K.A.R., M.S., I.M. and Y.Z. conducted the push–pull experiments. Y.Z. conducted the batch adsorption experiments. H.M. designed and executed the hydrological model of the Bengal Basin. I.M., M.B., M.R.H., I.C., M.W.R. provided field and laboratory assistance for the adsorption experiments. B.C.B. provided sediment mineralogical analysis. P.S. advised and supported the work of K.A.R. K.A.R, Y.Z., and H.M. analysed the data and wrote the paper, which was then edited by A.v.G.

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Correspondence to K. A. Radloff.

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Radloff, K., Zheng, Y., Michael, H. et al. Arsenic migration to deep groundwater in Bangladesh influenced by adsorption and water demand. Nature Geosci 4, 793–798 (2011).

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