The influence of groundwater chemistry on arsenic concentrations and speciation in a quartz sand and gravel aquifer

Geochemical Transactions
By:  and 



We examined the chemical reactions influencing dissolved concentrations, speciation, and transport of naturally occurring arsenic (As) in a shallow, sand and gravel aquifer with distinct geochemical zones resulting from land disposal of dilute sewage effluent. The principal geochemical zones were: (1) the uncontaminated zone above the sewage plume [350 μM dissolved oxygen (DO), pH 5.9]; (2) the suboxic zone (5 μM DO, pH 6.2, elevated concentrations of sewage-derived phosphate and nitrate); and (3) the anoxic zone [dissolved iron(II) 100–300 μM, pH 6.5–6.9, elevated concentrations of sewage-derived phosphate]. Sediments are comprised of greater than 90% quartz but the surfaces of quartz and other mineral grains are coated with nanometer-size iron (Fe) and aluminum (Al) oxides and/or silicates, which control the adsorption properties of the sediments. Uncontaminated groundwater with added phosphate (620 μM) was pumped into the uncontaminated zone while samples were collected 0.3 m above the injection point. Concentrations of As(V) increased from below detection (0.005 μM) to a maximum of 0.07 μM during breakthrough of phosphate at the sampling port; As(III) concentrations remained below detection. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that naturally occurring As(V) adsorbed to constituents of the coatings on grain surfaces was desorbed by phosphate in the injected groundwater. Also consistent with this hypothesis, vertical profiles of groundwater chemistry measured prior to the tracer test showed that dissolved As(V) concentrations increased along with dissolved phosphate from below detection in the uncontaminated zone to approximately 0.07 and 70 μM, respectively, in the suboxic zone. Concentrations of As(III) were below detection in both zones. The anoxic zone had approximately 0.07 μM As(V) but also had As(III) concentrations of 0.07–0.14 μM, suggesting that release of As bound to sediment grains occurred by desorption by phosphate, reductive dissolution of Fe oxides, and reduction of As(V) to As(III), which adsorbs only weakly to the Fe-oxide-depleted material in the coatings. Results of reductive extractions of the sediments suggest that As associated with the coatings was relatively uniformly distributed at approximately 1 nmol/g of sediment (equivalent to 0.075 ppm As) and comprised 20%-50% of the total As in the sediments, determined from oxidative extractions. Quartz sand aquifers provide high-quality drinking water but can become contaminated when naturally occurring arsenic bound to Fe and Al oxides or silicates on sediment surfaces is released by desorption and dissolution of Fe oxides in response to changing chemical conditions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The influence of groundwater chemistry on arsenic concentrations and speciation in a quartz sand and gravel aquifer
Series title Geochemical Transactions
DOI 10.1063/1.1738211
Volume 5
Issue 1
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
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