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Arsenic in groundwater: a summary of sources and the biogeochemical and hydrogeologic factors affecting arsenic occurrence and mobility

March 24, 2013

Arsenic (As) is a metalloid element (atomic number 33) with one naturally occurring isotope of atomic mass 75, and four oxidation states (-3, 0, +3, and +5) (Smedley and Kinniburgh, 2002). In the aqueous environment, the +3 and +5 oxidation states are most prevalent, as the oxyanions arsenite (H3AsO3 or H2AsO3- at pH ~9-11) and arsenate (H2AsO4- and HAsO42- at pH ~4-10) (Smedley and Kinniburgh, 2002). In soils, arsine gases (containing As3-) may be generated by fungi and other organisms (Woolson, 1977).

The different forms of As have different toxicities, with arsine gas being the most toxic form. Of the inorganic oxyanions, arsenite is considered more toxic than arsenate, and the organic (methylated) arsenic forms are considered least toxic (for a detailed discussion of toxicity issues, the reader is referred to Mandal and Suzuki (2002)). Arsenic is a global health concern due to its toxicity and the fact that it occurs at unhealthful levels in water supplies, particularly groundwater, in more than 70 countries (Ravenscroft et al., 2009) on six continents.