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Arsenic in groundwaters in the Northern Appalachian Mountain belt: A review of patterns and processes

Peters, Stephen C.
Journal of contaminant hydrology 2008 v.99 no.1-4 pp. 8-21
Environmental Protection Agency, adsorption, anthropogenic activities, arsenic, basins, bedrock, drinking water, groundwater, households, iron, iron oxides, landfills, nitrate reduction, oxide, hydroxide, and oxyhydroxide minerals, pH, pollution, pyrites, surface water, wells, Appalachian region, Maine, New England region
Naturally occurring arsenic in the bedrock of the Northern Appalachian Mountain belt was first recognized in the late 19th century. The knowledge of the behavior of arsenic in groundwater in this region has lagged behind nearly a century, with the popular press reporting on local studies in the early 1980s, and most peer-reviewed research articles on regional patterns conducted and written in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Research reports have shown that within this high arsenic region, between 6% and 22% of households using private drinking water wells contain arsenic in excess of 10 µg/L, the United States Environmental Protection Agency's maximum contaminant level. In nearly all reports, arsenic in drinking water was derived from naturally occurring geologic sources, typically arsenopyrite, substituted sulfides such as arsenian pyrite, and nanoscale minerals such as westerveldite. In most studies, arsenic concentrations in groundwater were controlled by pH dependent adsorption to mineral surfaces, most commonly iron oxide minerals. In some cases, reductive dissolution of iron minerals has been shown to increase arsenic concentrations in groundwater, more commonly associated with anthropogenic activities such as landfills. Evidence of nitrate reduction promoting the presence of arsenic(V) and iron(III) minerals in anoxic environments has been shown to occur in surface waters, and in this manuscript we show this process perhaps applies to groundwater. The geologic explanation for the high arsenic region in the Northern Appalachian Mountain belt is most likely the crustal recycling of arsenic as an incompatible element during tectonic activity. Accretion of multiple terranes, in particular Avalonia and the Central Maine Terrane of New England appear to be connected to the presence of high concentrations of arsenic. Continued tectonic activity and recycling of these older terranes may also be responsible for the high arsenic observed in the Triassic rift basins, e.g. the Newark Basin. There are only two well-known cases of anthropogenic contamination of the environment in the northern Appalachian Mountain belt, both of which are industrial sites with surface contamination at that infiltrated the local groundwater.