Assessment of Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater and Health Problems in Bangladesh
Geology of Bangladesh in Relation to Arsenic in Groundwater
Origin and Mechanism of Arsenic Mobilization
- Oxidation of arsenical pyrite;
- Reductive dissolution of FeOOH (hydrous ferric oxides or HFO) resulting in the release of sediment-bound arsenic;
- Anion (competitive) exchange of sediment-bound arsenic with phosphate from fertilizers;
- Release of arsenic from the degradation of pesticides* and fertilizers. We used published data as well as the knowledge of socio-environmental and geologic conditions in Bangladesh in critically reviewing these mechanisms to explain arsenic release to groundwater.
Oxidation of Arsenical
- Why is arsenic found in areas that are not affected by upstream diversion of surface water, such as in the Meghna basin (NE Bangladesh)?
- Why are arsenic concentrations not highest in the unsaturated zone beneath the surface where the groundwater table fluctuates between dry and wet seasons?
- Does arsenic pollution increase during the wet season?
- Are the Eh-pH field changes in the aquifer due to drawdown?
- Why is the arsenic pollution so severe in West Bengal and Bihar where upstream diversion of surface water did not occur?
- Why does the arsenic pollution occur in areas where drawdown is not a likely cause for oxidation, such as in Wisconsin, USA?
Reductive Dissolution of Hydrous Ferric Oxides (HFO)
- Is there a peat layer above the aquifer in the entire area that is polluted with arsenic?
- Even if peat layers and/or organic rich sediments occur in aquifer materials, at what depth do they occur?
- Why is there arsenic pollution along the Brahmaputra riverbanks, where sediments are predominantly sandy in nature?
- The peat layer associated with the low sea level position in the Bengal Basin is found at depths ranging from 2 to 7 m below mean sea level and about 80 to 120 km landward of the present shoreline location. Why then is the aquifer located at depths ranging from 15 to 75 m polluted with arsenic? How does the arsenic produced in the peat layer located at 2 to 7 m move to a greater depth?
- The Madhupur Tract and Barind Tract are also very similar in their geologic origin, i.e. they represent ancient delta plain and floodplains. Why are there no organic-rich sediments and high concentrations of arsenic in the aquifers in those areas?
- Can the hypothesis account for the variability in arsenic concentrations in terms of time-dependent field data? .
Competitive ion Exchange
- Why do not the phosphate anions from fertilizers force the release of arsenic in all geologic settings equally?
- Why are arsenic concentrations not high in surface water where phosphate anions are supposed to be in high concentration?
- Is there any relationship between fertilizer application and elevated arsenic concentrations in Bangladesh or elsewhere?
Release of Arsenic from Degradation of Pesticides and Fertilizers
- What are the pathways and sinks of pesticides and fertilizers as they relate to groundwater movement?
- How do the pesticides and phosphate fertilizers move through the fine grained sediments into the deep aquifers?
- Why is the amount of arsenic in groundwater not proportional to the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used Bangladesh?
- Are there any seasonal variations in the amount of arsenic observed in groundwater that reflects the usage of pesticides and fertilizers?
- Why are the high concentrations of arsenic predominantly associated with the low-lying coastal/deltaic environments that are characterized by fine-grained sediments (Fig. 2)?
Unsolved Geologic Problem and Its Consequences on Human Health
Effect of Arsenic Poisoning on Health
Clinical Symptoms and Findings
Nutritional Status and Disease
Arsenic Contaminating Vegetables and Crops
- A comprehensive study of the geologic history including the compilation of paleogeographic interpretations for various time intervals.
- The identification of the biogeochemical processes active in different geographic and geologic settings.
- The investigation of regional land-use practices.
- The design of appropriate conceptual models for determining groundwater flowpaths.
- The design of appropriate geochemical models of reaction mechanisms.
- A comprehensive study of the epidemiological aspects of the problem. These studies need to be undertaken in order to establish relationships between biogeochemical factors responsible for the release of arsenic and the observed concentrations of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh.
Future Research and Policy Implications
- Detailed lithologic descriptions of well logs (types and characteristics of units) to establish a 3-D framework of the geologic strata to identify and characterize those units acting as aquifers (porous and permeable layers that hold and transmit water to tubewells) aquitards (impervious layers that impede water movement through them) in the arsenic-affected areas.
- The geologic history of evolution of the Bengal Basin and the resultant sediments as a function of time and space.
- Reconstruct paleogeographic maps of Bangladesh, which will illustrate the types of sediments deposited at various locations and depths at a given time period.
- Develop conceptual models of groundwater flowpaths, with evidence supported by computer simulations.
- Use geochemical data collected from the existing pumping wells, as well as from newly drilled wells, to develop geochemical models, which can be used to determine the types of chemical reactions and products, including possible chemical complexes. The best way to determine complexes is to utilize geochemical computer codes, such as MINTEQ or PHREEQE .
- Compile geologic information for sediments and chemicals observed at various depths to decipher spatial and temporal relationships between sediments and arsenic concentrations.
- Multidisciplinary studies to better understand biogeochemical environments and epidemiological relationships to the natural environments.
- Enhance public awareness of the health problems from contaminated water.
- Take short- and long-term intervention strategies to curb the exposure.
- Strengthen rapid diagnostic facilities.
- Establish effective treatment facilities in rural areas.
- Improve the nutritional status of the people.
|Hypotheses||Major Determining Factors||References||Major Unexplained Aspects|
|Oxidation of arsenical pyrite||[11, 13, 15]|
|Reductive dissolution of hydrous iron oxides (HFO)||[6, 19]|
|Competitive ion exchange|||
|Arsenic from pesticides and fertilizers||Requires application of adequate amount of arsenic-bearing pesticides & fertilizers||[22, 23]|
|Clinical features||Number (%)*|
|Chronic cough||35 (23)|
|Joint pain or backache||26 (17)|
|Abdominal pain||24 (16)|
|Chest pain||24 (16)|
|Loss of appetite||18 (12)|
|Shortness of breath||15 (10)|
|Frequent urination with burning||15 (10)|
|Tingling and numbness||12 (8)|
|Chronic dysentery||6 (4)|
|Blurred vision||4 (3)|
|Deceased libido||1 (1)|
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© 2005 MDPI. All rights reserved.
Khalequzzaman, M.; Faruque, F.S.; Mitra, A.K. Assessment of Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater and Health Problems in Bangladesh. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2005, 2, 204-213. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph2005020002
Khalequzzaman M, Faruque FS, Mitra AK. Assessment of Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater and Health Problems in Bangladesh. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2005; 2(2):204-213. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph2005020002Chicago/Turabian Style
Khalequzzaman, Md., Fazlay S. Faruque, and Amal K. Mitra. 2005. "Assessment of Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater and Health Problems in Bangladesh" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2, no. 2: 204-213. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph2005020002