Natural arsenic (As) contamination of groundwater which provides drinking water and/or irrigation supplies remains a major public health issue, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. A number of studies have evaluated various aspects of the biogeochemical controls on As mobilization in aquifers typical to this region, however many are predicated on the assumption that key biogeochemical processes may be deduced by sampled water chemistry. The validity of this assumption has not been clearly established even though the role of sorption/desorption of As and other heavy metals onto Fe/Mn (hydr)oxides is an important control in As mobilization. Here, selective chemical extractions of sand-rich and clay-rich sediments from an As-affected aquifer in Kandal Province, Cambodia, were undertaken to explore the potential role of partial re-equilibrium through sorption/desorption reactions of As and related solutes (Fe, Mn and P) between groundwater and the associated solid aquifer matrix. In general, groundwater As is strongly affected by both pH and Eh throughout the study area. However, contrasting sorption behaviour is observed in two distinct sand-dominated (T-Sand) and clay dominated (T-Clay) transects, and plausibly attributed to differing dominant lithologies, biogeochemical and/or hydrogeological conditions. Sorption/desorption processes appear to be re-setting groundwater As concentrations in both transects, but to varying extents and in different ways. In T-Sand, which is typically highly reducing, correlations suggest that dissolved As may be sequestered by sorption/re-adsorption to Fe-bearing mineral phases and/or sedimentary organic matter; in T-Clay Eh is a major control on As mobilization although binding/occlusion of Fe-bearing minerals to sedimentary organic matter may also occur. Multiple linear regression analysis was conducted with groups categorised by transect and by Eh, and the output correlations support the contrasting sorption behaviours encountered in this study area. Irrespective of transect, however, the key biogeochemical processes which initially control As mobilization in such aquifers, may be “masked” by the re-setting of As concentrations through in-aquifer sorption/desorption processes.
- Partial equilibrium
- Water-rock interactions