Arsenic in groundwater

Arsenic-contaminated groundwater endangers the health of millions of people in southern Asia. In this focus issue we gather together articles on the origin and fate of arsenic in groundwater, together with opinion pieces outlining options for dealing with the problem, and backstories detailing some of the challenges faced by the researchers.



Digging deeper pp1


Arsenic contamination of groundwater affects millions of people in southern Asia. Water from deep wells could help, but only if used in moderation.



The socio-economics of arsenic removal pp2 - 3

Richard Bart Johnston, Suzanne Hanchett & Mohidul Hoque Khan


Nearly an eighth of the population in Bangladesh relies on arsenic-contaminated drinking water. Arsenic removal filters could help to reduce exposure, but their price is high for the poor and their maintenance cumbersome.


News and Views

Anthropogenic arsenic pp5 - 6

Shawn Benner


Arsenic occurs naturally in the groundwaters of southern Asia. Analyses of an agricultural site in Bangladesh suggest that human activities, including widespread farming practices, can dictate where elevated arsenic is found.


Progress Article

Vulnerability of deep groundwater in the Bengal Aquifer System to contamination by arsenic

W. G. Burgess, M. A. Hoque, H. A. Michael, C. I. Voss, G. N. Breit & K. M. Ahmed


Arsenic levels in shallow groundwater in the Bengal Basin exceed thresholds for safe drinking water. Groundwater modelling indicates that deep wells that reach safe water below 150 m could remain safe for centuries if used for domestic water only, whereas the intensive use of deep groundwater for irrigation could contaminate this resource within decades.



Anthropogenic influences on groundwater arsenic concentrations in Bangladesh pp46 - 52

Rebecca B. Neumann, Khandaker N. Ashfaque, A. B. M. Badruzzaman, M. Ashraf Ali, Julie K. Shoemaker & Charles F. Harvey


Microbially mediated oxidation of organic carbon is thought to drive the release of arsenic into groundwater. Hydrological and geochemical analyses suggest that pond water is the source of organic carbon in groundwater in Bangladesh.

Arsenic release from paddy soils during monsoon flooding pp53 - 59

Linda C. Roberts, Stephan J. Hug, Jessica Dittmar, Andreas Voegelin, Ruben Kretzschmar, Bernhard Wehrli, Olaf A. Cirpka, Ganesh C. Saha, M. Ashraf Ali & A. Borhan M. Badruzzaman


Bangladesh relies heavily on groundwater for the irrigation of dry-season rice. Analysis of soil porewater and floodwater in rice paddy fields during the monsoon season in Bangladesh suggests that flooding removes a significant amount of the arsenic from soils.



Poisoned backwaters pp68

Charles Harvey


Charles Harvey and colleagues got to know a snake charmer and his cobras while trying to unravel the mystery of groundwater arsenic contamination in Bangladesh.


From the archives

Rising arsenic risk?

David Polya & Laurent Charlet


Millions of people in southern Asia rely on arsenic-contaminated groundwater to live. Massive water withdrawals through wells may be increasing the problem by drawing arsenic-mobilizing substances into shallow aquifers and arsenic-contaminated shallow groundwaters into deeper aquifers.

Arsenic meets dense populations

Alexander van Geen


In the South Asian lowlands, high population density coincides with dangerous levels of arsenic in groundwater. Maps based on surface geology can help identify regions at risk of arsenic contamination.

Predicting groundwater arsenic contamination in Southeast Asia from surface parameters

Lenny Winkel, Michael Berg, Manouchehr Amini, Stephan J. Hug & C. Annette Johnson


Arsenic contamination of groundwater resources threatens the health of millions of people in the densely populated river deltas of Southeast Asia. Holocene deltaic and organic-rich surface sediments are key indicators for arsenic risk areas.

All hands to the pump

Lenny Winkel


Lenny Winkel and colleagues found that strong arm muscles can be required to test South Sumatran groundwater samples for arsenic content.

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