Main content area

Arsenic concentrations after drinking water well installation: Time-varying effects on arsenic mobilization

Erickson, Melinda L., Malenda, Helen F., Berquist, Emily C., Ayotte, Joseph D.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.678 pp. 681-691
aquifers, arsenic, bedrock, chronic exposure, drilling, drinking water, geochemistry, gravel, pH, public health, sand, water quality, wells, United States
Chronic exposure to geogenic arsenic via drinking water is a worldwide health concern. However, effects of well installation and operation on arsenic concentrations and mobilization are not well understood. This knowledge gap impacts both reliable detection of arsenic in drinking water and effective public health recommendations to reduce exposure to arsenic. This study examines changes in arsenic and redox geochemistry over one year following installation of 254 new domestic water wells in three regions of the north-central USA that commonly have elevated arsenic concentrations. Our regions' geologic settings share some important characteristics with other high-arsenic aquifers: igneous bedrock aquifers; or late Pleistocene-age glacial sand and gravel aquifers interbedded with aquitards. Over the study, arsenic concentrations increased by 16% or more in 25% of wells in glacial aquifer regions, and the redox conditions changed towards more reducing. In wells in the bedrock region, there was no significant change in arsenic concentrations, and redox conditions changed towards more oxidizing. Our findings illustrate the importance of understanding short- to moderate-term impacts of well installation and operation on arsenic and aqueous chemistry, as it relates to human exposure. Our study informs water quality sampling requirements, which currently do not consider the implications sampling timing with respect to well installation. Evaluating arsenic concentrations in samples from new wells in the context of general regional pH and redox conditions can provide information regarding the degree of disequilibrium created by well drilling. Our analysis approach may be transferable and scalable to similar aquifer settings across the globe.