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Experimental constraints on redox-induced arsenic release and retention from aquifer sediments in the central Yangtze River Basin

Duan, Yanhua, Schaefer, Michael V., Wang, Yanxin, Gan, Yiqun, Yu, Kai, Deng, Yamin, Fendorf, Scott
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.649 pp. 629-639
aerobic conditions, anaerobic conditions, aquifers, arsenic, carbon, crystallization, groundwater, groundwater contamination, iron, minerals, organic matter, oxygen, people, seasonal variation, sediments, water table, watersheds, China, South East Asia, Yangtze River
The consumption of arsenic (As) contaminated groundwater affects the health of almost 20 million people in China. Unlike the preponderance of observations within the deltas of South and Southeast Asia, groundwater As concentrations in the central Yangtze River Basin, China, vary by up to an order of magnitude seasonally. In order to decipher the cause of seasonal release and retention of As between sediments and groundwater, we conducted batch sediment incubations under varying (imposed) redox conditions. Incubations were conducted under both N2 and O2 gas purges to simulate conditions observed within the field. In all cases, anoxic conditions resulted in As release to solution while As was removed from solution under oxic conditions. These experiments confirm that anoxia is a prerequisite for As mobilization into groundwater from Yangtze River Basin sediments. Alternating redox conditions resulted in Fe minerals dissolution, transformation, crystallization, and precipitation, and subsequent As release and retention in the system. More importantly, aquifer sediments at depths >15 m release As through multiple redox cycles without an exogenous electron donor (carbon source), organic matter in the sediments is sufficiently reactive to support microbial reduction of As(V) and Fe(III). These results provide direct evidence for previously described mechanisms explaining the observed seasonal variation of groundwater As concentrations in the central Yangtze River Basin, where seasonal changes in surface and groundwater levels drive changes in redox conditions and thus As concentrations.