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Exposure to high concentration geogenic arsenic via groundwater is a worldwide health concern. Well installation introduces oxic drilling fluids and hypochlorite (a strong oxidant) for disinfection, thus inducing geochemical disequilibrium. Well installation causes changes in geochemistry lasting 12 + months, as illustrated in a recent study of 250 new domestic wells in Minnesota, north-central United States. One study well had extremely high initial arsenic (1550 µg/L) that substantially decreased after 15 months (5.2 µg/L). The drilling and development of the study well were typical and ordinary; nothing observable indicated the very high initial arsenic concentration. We hypothesized that oxidation of arsenic-containing sulfides (which lowers pH) combined with low pH dissolution of arsenic-bearing Fe (oxyhydr)oxides caused the very high arsenic concentration. Geochemical equilibrium considerations and modeling supported our hypothesis. Groundwater equilibrium redox conditions are poised at the Fe(III)(s)/Fe(II)(aq) stability boundary, indicating arsenic-bearing Fe (oxyhydr)oxide mineral sensitivity to pH and redox changes. Changing groundwater geochemistry can have negative implications for home water treatment (e.g., reduced arsenic removal efficiency, iron fouling), which can lead to ongoing but unrecognized hazard of arsenic exposure from domestic well water. Our results may inform arsenic mobilization processes and geochemical sensitivity in similarly complex aquifers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.


PMID: 33677323




Elsevier B.V.



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Journal of Hazardous Materials