Arsenic in groundwater of Licking County, Ohio, 2012—Occurrence and relation to hydrogeology

Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5148
Prepared in cooperation with the Ohio Water Development Authority



Arsenic concentrations were measured in samples from 168 domestic wells in Licking County, Ohio, to document arsenic concentrations in a wide variety of wells and to identify hydrogeologic factors associated with arsenic concentrations in groundwater. Elevated concentrations of arsenic (greater than 10.0 micrograms per liter [µg/L]) were detected in 12 percent of the wells (about 1 in 8). The maximum arsenic concentration of about 44 µg/L was detected in two wells in the same township.

A subset of 102 wells was also sampled for iron, sulfate, manganese, and nitrate, which were used to estimate redox conditions of the groundwater. Elevated arsenic concentrations were detected only in strongly reducing groundwater. Almost 20 percent of the samples with iron concentrations high enough to produce iron staining (greater than 300 µg/L) also had elevated concentrations of arsenic.

In groundwater, arsenic primarily occurs as two inorganic species—arsenite and arsenate. Arsenic speciation was determined for a subset of nine samples, and arsenite was the predominant species. Of the two species, arsenite is more difficult to remove from water, and is generally considered to be more toxic to humans.

Aquifer and well-construction characteristics were compiled from 99 well logs. Elevated concentrations of arsenic (and iron) were detected in glacial and bedrock aquifers but were more prevalent in glacial aquifers. The reason may be that the glacial deposits typically contain more organic carbon than the Paleozoic bedrock. Organic carbon plays a role in the redox reactions that cause arsenic (and iron) to be released from the aquifer matrix. Arsenic concentrations were not significantly different for different types of bedrock (sandstone, shale, sandstone/shale, or other). However, arsenic concentrations in bedrock wells were correlated with two well-construction characteristics; higher arsenic concentrations in bedrock wells were associated with (1) shorter open intervals and (2) deeper open intervals, relative to the water level.

The spatial distribution of arsenic concentrations was compared to hydrogeologic characteristics of Licking County. Elevated concentrations of arsenic (and iron) were associated with areas of flat topography and thick (greater than 100 feet),clay-rich glacial deposits. These characteristics are conducive to development of strongly reducing redox conditions, which can cause arsenic associated with iron oxyhydroxides in the aquifer matrix to be released to the groundwater.

Hydrogeologic characteristics conducive to the development of strongly reducing groundwater are relatively wide-spread in the western part of Licking County, which is part of the Central Lowland physiographic province. In this area, a thick layer of clay-rich glacial deposits obscures the bedrock surface and creates flat to gently rolling landscape with poorly developed drainage networks. In the eastern part of the county, which is part of the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province, the landscape includes steep-sided valleys and bedrock uplands. In this area, elevated arsenic concentrations were detected in buried valleys but not in the bedrock uplands, where glacial deposits are thin or absent. The observation that elevated concentrations of arsenic (and iron) were more prevalent in the western part of Licking County is true for both glacial and bedrock aquifers.

In Licking County, thick, clay-rich glacial deposits (and elevated concentrations of arsenic) are associated with two hydrogeologic settings—buried valley and complex thick drift. Most wells in the buried-valley setting had low arsenic concentrations, but a few samples had very high concentrations (30–44 µg/L) and very reducing redox conditions (methanogenic and near-methanogenic). For wells in the complex-thick-drift setting, elevated arsenic concentrations are more prevalent, but the maximum concentration was lower (about 21 µg/L). Similar observations were made about arsenic concentrations in parts of southwestern Ohio.

The hydrogeologic settings and characteristics associated with arsenic in Licking County also exist in other parts of Ohio. The statewide extent of these characteristics roughly corresponds to areas where elevated concentrations of arsenic are known to exist. This preliminary conceptual model can be tested and revised as additional wells are sampled for arsenic.

Suggested Citation

Thomas, M.A., 2016, Arsenic in groundwater of Licking County, Ohio, 2012—Occurrence and relation to hydrogeology: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5148, 38 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Description of Study Area
  • Arsenic Concentrations
  • Factors Related to Arsenic Concentrations
  • Preliminary Extrapolation of Results From Licking County to Other Parts of Ohio
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Tables 2–5
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Arsenic in groundwater of Licking County, Ohio, 2012—Occurrence and relation to hydrogeology
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2015-5148
ISBN 978-1-4113-4008-4
DOI 10.3133/sir20155148
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Ohio Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 38 p.; Table
Country United States
State Ohio
County Licking County
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details