Glacial sediment causing regional-scale elevated arsenic in drinking water

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In the upper Midwest, USA, elevated arsenic concentrations in public drinking water systems are associated with the lateral extent of northwest provenance late Wisconsin-aged drift. Twelve percent of public water systems located within the footprint of this drift (212 of 1764) exceed 10 μg/L arsenic, which is the U.S. EPA's drinking water standard. Outside of the footprint, only 2.4% of public water systems (52 of 2182) exceed 10 μg/L arsenic. Both glacial drift aquifers and shallow bedrock aquifers overlain by northwest provenance late Wisconsin-aged sediment are affected by arsenic contamination. Evidence suggests that the distinct physical characteristics of northwest provenance late Wisconsin-aged drift - its fine-grained matrix and entrained organic carbon that fosters biological activity - cause the geochemical conditions necessary to mobilize arsenic via reductive mechanisms such as reductive desorption and reductive dissolution of metal oxides. This study highlights an important and often unrecognized phenomenon: high-arsenic sediment is not necessary to cause arsenic-impacted ground water - when "impacted" is now defined as >10 μg/L. This analysis also demonstrates the scientific and economic value of using existing large but imperfect statewide data sets to observe and characterize regional-scale environmental problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-805
Number of pages10
JournalGround water
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2005


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