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Lawrence Livermore helps find link to arsenic-contaminated groundwater
Date:3/4/2013

Human activities are not the primary cause of arsenic found in groundwater in Bangladesh.

Instead, a team of researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Barnard College, Columbia University, University of Dhaka, Desert Research Institute and University of Tennessee found that the arsenic in groundwater in the region is part of a natural process that predates any recent human interaction, such as intensive pumping.

The results appear in the March 4 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Millions of people in Bangladesh and neighboring countries are chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated groundwater, which causes skin lesions and increases the risk of certain cancers. Bacterial respiration of organic carbon releases naturally-occurring arsenic from sediment into groundwater, but the source of this organic carbon remains unclear.

Brian Mailloux of Barnard College and his team isolated microbial DNA from several depth intervals in arsenic-contaminated aquifers in Bangladesh and analyzed the DNA's radiocarbon signature, which reflects whether the organic carbon used by the microbes derives primarily from younger, surface-derived sources that are transported by groundwater into the aquifers, or older, sediment-derived sources.

Using "bomb pulse" radiocarbon analysis, Lawrence Livermore scientist Bruce Buchholz dated the DNA of groundwater bacteria. He found that the DNA samples were consistently younger than the sediment, suggesting that the microbes favor using surface-derived carbon.

The surface-derived carbon has flowed into the aquifer over hundreds to thousands of years -- a rate that is approximately 100 times slower than groundwater flow. The results suggest that recent human activities, such as intensive groundwater pumping, have not yet significantly affected the release of arsenic into the groundwater at this site.

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Contact: Anne Stark
stark8@llnl.gov
925-422-9799
DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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