Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater: Mechanism, Analysis, and Remediation

Book review: Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater: Mechanism, Analysis, and Remediation, edited by Satinder Ahuja (2008), is published by Wiley (ISBN 978-0-470-14447-3).

Laura L. Sanders, Book Editor

Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater: Mechanism, Analysis, and RemediationThis 15-chapter book, edited by Satinder Ahuja, covers arsenic biogeochemistry, analysis, and mitigation. Although the title does not suggest it, many of the chapters, especially those that address mitigation techniques, are focused on the widespread and devastating arsenic contamination in South Asia.

After a long introductory chapter, Chapter 2 addresses arsenic uptake in soils and crops in Bangladesh. Figures and tables should have included more error analysis, but the chapter contains interesting information. For example, arsenic dietary load calculations indicate that up to one-third of the maximum allowable daily arsenic load could be achieved just through consumption of rice.

Chapter 3, on arsenic microbiology, describes mechanisms by which bacteria reduce, oxidize, and detoxify arsenic. The author presents experimental results from Ganges delta sediments showing that acetate addition stimulates reduction of both iron and arsenic, resulting in arsenic release to water. Although the symbols in the figure presenting the data are incorrect, a check of the original paper reveals that the text in the chapter correctly describes the results.

Chapter 4, also on microbiology, describes molecular analysis of water samples from two wells in North Carolina that have elevated arsenic. More information about the geology and biogeochemical conditions in the arsenic-impacted aquifers would have been helpful, but the chapter presented a useful approach for elucidating the organisms that may be involved in arsenic cycling in groundwater.

Chapter 5 is a well-organized chapter on arsenic biogeochemistry, providing a thorough description of mechanisms that affect arsenic mobility, including speciation, redox cycling, sorption, reductive dissolution, and mineral transformations. The authors present data from a reservoir in Los Angeles to illustrate the mechanisms involved in arsenic mobilization during sediment diagenesis.

Similar to Chapter 3, Chapter 6 describes arsenic microbiology and phylogenetics, but concentrates on microbially mediated arsenic release under reducing conditions. Chapters 7 and 8 describe analytical techniques for measuring arsenic in water, targeting field measurements. Both of these chapters are highly descriptive, and contain more information than most practitioners likely need, but as such they are useful references.

The remaining chapters (9 to 14) are on arsenic treatment, focusing on methods that are practical and potentially affordable for developing countries. Chapter 9 describes experimental results of using prickly pear mucilage to remove turbidity, metals, and bacteria from water. Because prickly pear is an endemic species in Latin America, use of this material would be a practical method for treating drinking water in this region. 

Chapter 10 reviews treatment methods relying on arsenic adsorption by packed columns containing different types of metal oxides, and describes experimental results from New Mexico. The authors also present a spreadsheet-friendly analytical solution that can be used to predict arsenic column breakthrough.

Chapters 11, 12, and 13 focus on arsenic removal methods that either are in use or have potential for use at the household or community level in Bangladesh and West Bengal, including oxide-coated coal ash, the SONO filter (winner of the 2007 National Academy of Engineering's Grainger Prize for Sustainability) and activated alumina. All three chapters describe how the methods work, experimental results, and include cost calculations. Chapter 14 is a summary of arsenic treatment methods and alternative water supply sources for Bangladesh. This chapter might have been better placed before Chapters 11 to 13.

I would have appreciated a combined reference section instead of each individual chapter having its own reference list, and several chapters used fewer references than is appropriate for a scientific book. The book was printed in black and white but contains a color insert section. Because a few of the figures were difficult to interpret in black and white, the reader should remember to check the insert section to view those figures in color.

There are now several books on arsenic contamination of natural waters: I found seven published since 2002. Because this book focuses more on household and community level mitigation methods than the others, it would be particularly useful for regulators, scientists, and engineers interested in treatment of arsenic-contaminated water, especially those working in developing countries.

Ground Water Volume 48, Issue 3, page 338, May/June 2010.
Book review: Arsenic Contamination of Groundwater: Mechanism, Analysis, and Remediation.

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