UCL Earth Sciences


Arsenic pollution of groundwater

Improved geological models aiding hydrocarbon reservoir development and management.

Many anoxic lake, river and groundwater systems throughout the world are contaminated with arsenic. Consumption of these waters can lead to arsenic toxicosis in animals, and melanosis, gangrene, cancer and ultimately, death, in humans. The health of hundreds of million of people from over 40 countries is at risk from consuming arsenic contaminated waters. This is best illustrated in West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh, which, according to the World Health Organisation, is the worst mass poisoning in the world. Research by Burgess and McArthur leads development of understanding of the source, transport, and fate of arsenic in groundwater systems.

Arsenic Pollution
Through workshops and training programmes explanations of the geochemical and hydraulic processes controlling the variability of arsenic in aquifers and security of deeper groundwater we have informed government, NGO and international donor strategies for monitoring programmes and deep groundwater pumping.

Although much of this work is focused on Asia, Arsenic contamination is also problematic in South America and Steve Edwards has been working with Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) on developing management schemes for safe water usage in Argentina and Bolivia.

A 2012 UK Department for International Development CRISSA award to improve water management in Asia was used to establish training partnerships between the National Institute of Hydrology (India), The Institution for Social and Environmental Transition (Nepal) and the UK Overseas Development Institute.

References to the research:

  • Arsenic poisoning of groundwater in Bangladesh, R. Nickson, J. McArthur, W. Burgess, M. Ahmed, P. Ravenscroft and M. Rahman, Nature, 395, 338 (1998) doi:10/fvhjxk
  • Natural organic matter in sedimentary basins and its relation to arsenic in anoxic ground water: the example of West Bengal and its worldwide implications, J. M. McArthur, D. M. Banerjee, K. A. Hudson-Edwards, R. Mishra, R. Purohit, P. Ravenscroft, A. Cronin, R. J. Howarth, A. Chatterjee, T. Talukder, D. Lowry, S. Houghton and D. K. Chadha, Appl. Geochem., 19, 1255-1293 (2004) doi:10/dmzhbv
  • How paleosols influence groundwater flow and arsenic pollution: A model from the Bengal Basin and its worldwide implication, J. M. McArthur, P. Ravenscroft, D. M. Banerjee, J. Milsom, K. A. Hudson-Edwards, S. Sengupta, C. Bristow, A. Sarkar, S. Tonkin and R. Purohit, Water Resour. Res., 44, W11411 (2008) doi:10/bcjs25
  • Migration of As, and 3H/3He ages, in groundwater from West Bengal: Implications for monitoring, J. M. McArthur, D. M. Banerjee, S. Sengupta, P. Ravenscroft, S. Klump, A. Sarkar, B. Disch and R. Kipfer, Water Res., 44, 4171-4185 (2010) doi:10/bp2dkm
  • Arsenic in groundwater of the Bengal Basin, Bangladesh: Distribution, field relations, and hydrogeological setting, P. R. Ravenscroft, W. G. Burgess, K. M. Ahmed, M. Burren, J. Perrin Hydrogeol. J., 13(5-6), 727-751 (2005) doi:10/dst9cs
  • 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 and K. M. Ahmed, Nature Geosci., 3(2), 83-87 (2010) doi:10/c7zfmc