Trace elements within groundwater that originate from aquifer materials and pose potential public-health hazards if consumed are known as geogenic contaminants. The geogenic contaminants arsenic, chromium, and vanadium can form negatively charged ions with oxygen known as oxyanions. Uranium complexes with bicarbonate and carbonate to form negatively charged ions having aqueous chemistry similar to oxyanions. The concentrations of arsenic, chromium, uranium, and vanadium in groundwater result from the combined effects of (1) geologic abundance within aquifer materials; (2) the fraction of these elements that have weathered from and sorbed to the surfaces of mineral grains and are potentially available to groundwater; and (3) the aqueous chemistry of dissolved oxyanions in groundwater during different redox conditions and pH, both of which are affected by hydrogeology, including the length of time groundwater has been in contact with aquifer materials. Concentrations of arsenic, chromium, uranium, and vanadium were measured in samples of (1) rock, surficial alluvium, and drill cuttings using portable (handheld) X-ray fluorescence (pXRF); (2) operationally defined fractions extractable from these materials; and (3) water from wells sampled between 2000 and 2018 within the 3,500 square mile Mojave River area and Morongo area of the western Mojave Desert, southern California.
Regionally, rock and surficial alluvium in the Mojave River and Morongo areas are high in arsenic, low in chromium and uranium, and near the average bulk continental crust concentration for vanadium. Locally, high chromium concentrations are present in mafic rock within the San Gabriel Mountains; high uranium concentrations are present in felsic rock within the San Bernardino Mountains; and high arsenic, uranium, and vanadium concentrations are present in extrusive (volcanic) felsic rock within uplands surrounding groundwater basins along the Mojave River downstream from Barstow, California. Elemental assemblages identified using principal component analyses (PCA) of pXRF data were used to characterize felsic, mafic, and felsic volcanic source terranes in rock, surficial alluvium, and in geologic material penetrated by selected monitoring wells drilled between 1994 and 2018. Highly felsic alluvium associated with recent deposition from the Mojave River was identified along the 90-mile length of the floodplain aquifer along the river. The thickness of these highly felsic alluvial deposits ranged from 200 feet (ft) near Victorville and near Barstow to a thin veneer about 30 ft thick downstream from Victorville and downstream portions of the floodplain aquifer within the Mojave Valley.
Groundwater in the Mojave River and Morongo areas was generally oxic and alkaline (pH≥7.5). Maximum concentrations of arsenic, hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)], uranium, and vanadium in water from as many as 498 wells sampled between 2000 and 2018 were 360, 140, 1,470, and 690 micrograms per liter (μg/L), respectively. Water from 22 percent of sampled wells exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic of 10 μg/L, with arsenic concentrations commonly exceeding the MCL in water from wells east of Barstow, deep wells in the Victorville fan, and in suboxic or reduced groundwater within the floodplain aquifer. Water from about 1 percent of sampled wells had Cr(VI) concentrations greater than the California MCL for total chromium of 50 μg/L, whereas 13 percent of sampled wells had Cr(VI) concentrations greater than the former California MCL of 10 μg/L. Hexavalent chromium concentrations were highest in water from wells in the Sheep Creek alluvial fan, eroded from mafic rock in the San Gabriel Mountains, although Cr(VI) concentrations greater than the former California MCL also were present elsewhere in the study area where mafic materials or older groundwater were present. Water from about 9 percent of sampled wells exceeded the EPA MCL for uranium of 30 μg/L, with concentrations exceeding the MCL commonly associated with irrigation return from agricultural land overlying the floodplain aquifer. Water from about 7 percent of sampled wells had vanadium concentrations greater than the California notification level of 50 μg/L; most of these wells were in the Victorville fan within the Mojave River area. In general, arsenic concentrations were higher in suboxic or reduced water; chromium concentrations were higher in oxic, alkaline (pH≥7.5) water; uranium concentrations were higher in circumneutral to slightly alkaline water (pH≤7.4); and vanadium concentrations were higher in highly alkaline (pH≥8.0) water, independent of redox status.
Concentrations within geologic source terranes are not the sole factor controlling the concentrations of geogenic elements in groundwater. Differences in mineral weathering, pH-dependent sorption to surface-exchange sites on mineral grains, and aqueous geochemistry (especially redox status and pH) affect geogenic element concentrations in groundwater. Consequently, the relative abundances of arsenic, Cr(VI), uranium, and vanadium in groundwater differ from their relative abundances in the average bulk continental crust and their regional abundances in rock and surficial alluvium within groundwater basins of the western Mojave Desert. Processes that control the concentrations of arsenic, chromium, uranium, and vanadium in groundwater operate at the mineral-grain and aquifer scale.
At the mineral-grain scale, sequential chemical extraction data show arsenic and uranium are more available to groundwater (under specific geochemical conditions) than chromium or vanadium, which largely are unavailable within unweathered mineral grains. Additionally, chromium and vanadium form few aqueous complexes and bind tightly with iron minerals within surface coatings on mineral grains making them less available to groundwater, whereas complexation with other dissolved ions enhances the solubility of uranium and, to a lesser extent, arsenic. Complexation also increases the valence (less negative charge) and increases the size of dissolved oxyanions and uranium complexes with bicarbonate and carbonate making them less readily sorbed to aquifer materials.
At the aquifer scale, hydrogeology (including isolation of water in aquifers from surface sources of recharge, older groundwater age, and long contact times between groundwater and aquifer materials) combined with geochemical processes (such as silicate weathering) to produce alkaline groundwater. Desorption from sorption sites on the surfaces of mineral grains with increasing pH increases arsenic, chromium, and vanadium concentrations in water from wells and increases Cr(VI) concentrations as long as water remains oxic.
Aqueous geochemistry and concentrations of geogenic contaminants also are affected by anthropogenic activities including (1) discharge of treated municipal wastewater, which may change the redox status of groundwater; (2) return from irrigated agriculture, which may alter the chemistry of groundwater and increase the solubility of trace elements such as uranium; and (3) groundwater pumping and subsequent water-level declines, which may change the source of water yielded by wells. The quality of water imported from northern California and infiltrated from ponds for groundwater recharge may be altered by naturally present trace elements, especially uranium in areas of agricultural land use or chromium within mafic alluvium.
|Title||Arsenic, chromium, uranium, and vanadium in rock, alluvium, and groundwater, Mojave River and Morongo Areas, western Mojave Desert, southern California|
|Authors||John A. Izbicki, Krishangi D. Groover, Whitney A. Seymour|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||California Water Science Center|