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Arsenic attenuation by oxidized aquifer sediments in Bangladesh

January 1, 2007

Recognition of arsenic (As) contamination of shallow fluvio-deltaic aquifers in the Bengal Basin has resulted in increasing exploitation of groundwater from deeper aquifers that generally contain low concentrations of dissolved As. Pumping-induced infiltration of high-As groundwater could eventually cause As concentrations in these aquifers to increase. This study investigates the adsorption capacity for As of sediment from a low-As aquifer near Dhaka, Bangladesh. A shallow, chemically-reducing aquifer at this site extends to a depth of 50 m and has maximum As concentrations in groundwater of 900 μg/L. At depths greater than 50 m, geochemical conditions are more oxidizing and groundwater has < 5 μg/L As. There is no thick layer of clay at this site to inhibit vertical transport of groundwater.

Arsenite [As(III)] is the dominant oxidation state in contaminated groundwater; however, data from laboratory batch experiments show that As(III) is oxidized to arsenate [As(V)] by manganese (Mn) minerals that are present in the oxidized sediment. Thus, the long-term viability of the deeper aquifers as a source of water supply is likely to depend on As(V) adsorption. The adsorption capacity of these sediments is a function of the oxidation state of As and the concentration of other solutes that compete for adsorption sites. Arsenite that was not oxidized did adsorb, but to a much lesser extent than As(V). Phosphate (P) caused a substantial decrease in As(V) adsorption. Increasing pH and concentrations of silica (Si) had lesser effects on As(V) adsorption. The effect of bicarbonate (HCO3) on As(V) adsorption was negligible. Equilibrium constants for adsorption of As(V), As(III), P, Si, HCO3, and H were determined from the experimental data and a quantitative model developed. Oxidation of As(III) was modeled with a first-order rate constant. This model was used to successfully simulate As(V) adsorption in the presence of multiple competing solutes. Results from these experiments show that oxidized sediments have a substantial but limited capacity for removal of As from groundwater.