The consumption of shallow groundwater with elevated concentrations of arsenic is causing widespread disease in many parts of South and Southeast Asia. In the Bengal Basin, a growing reliance on groundwater sourced below 150-m depth - where arsenic concentrations tend to be lower - has reduced exposure. Groundwater flow simulations have suggested that these deep waters are at risk of contamination due to replenishment with high-arsenic groundwater from above, even when deep water pumping is restricted to domestic use. However, these simulations have neglected the influence of sediment adsorption on arsenic migration. Here, we inject arsenic-bearing groundwater into a deep aquifer zone in Bangladesh, and monitor the reduction in arsenic levels over time following stepwise withdrawal of the water. Arsenic concentrations in the injected water declined by 70% after 24 h in the deep aquifer zone, owing to adsorption on sediments; concentrations of a co-injected inert tracer remain unchanged. We incorporate the experimentally determined adsorption properties of sands in the deep aquifer zone into a groundwater flow and transport model covering the Bengal Basin. Simulations using present and future scenarios of water-use suggest that arsenic adsorption significantly retards transport, thereby extending the area over which deep groundwater can be used with low risk of arsenic contamination. Risks are considerably lower when deep water is pumped for domestic use alone. Some areas remain vulnerable to arsenic intrusion, however, and we suggest that these be prioritized for monitoring.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)