Distribution and Biogeochemical Cycling of Arsenic In Grey and Brown Sand Aquifers in the Bengal Delta Plains (India)

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: An elevated level of Arsenic (As) in aquifers from India and Bangladesh affecting the human health has been widely reported since the late 1980s. The thesis aim is to investigate the present status of As contamination and biogeochemical cycling with direct role of diverse indigenous bacterial communities in As cycling in the Bengal Delta Plain (BDP) aquifers in Nadia district, West Bengal (India). The As(III) oxidizing bacterial communities were predominant in grey sand aquifers (GSA), but were characteristically absent in brown sand aquifers (BSA). Rainwater recharge containing inorganic and organic dissolved compounds played an important role in shaping the different groups of bacterial phenotypes. It included thearsenite-oxidizing bacteria as revealed by the aioA and 16S rRNA phylogeny. These bacterial communities in BDP groundwater were assumed to utilize the dissolved and sedimentary organic carbon (DOC and SOC) as the primary carbon source for respiration, and remobilization/immobilization of As involving reductive dissolution of iron oxyhydroxides. Hence, sediment and groundwater of these aquifer waters were characterized for their different inorganic constituents (metals) and organic compound classes. There were notable differences between the groundwater DOC and SOC pools. The only similarity between these carbon pools is presence of petroleum-derived hydrocarbons. The SOC in BSA has good correlation with the clay and silt-rich fraction. Notably, As formed complexes with iron, but not manganese. Biomarker characterization in sediments showed presence of terrigenous inputs along with petroleum-derived hydrocarbons. However, these hydrocarbons were absent in BSA sediments, and so were the arsenite oxidizing bacterial communities. Although DOC in groundwater plays an important role in sustaining the microorganisms, the contrasting character of SOC in BSA and GSA strongly influence the shaping of microbial community structure and biogeochemical cycling of As. This particularly affects the natural ‘safe’ drinking water capacity. Overall, the study gives a new directionfor long-term research on As biogeochemical cycling in the contaminated BDP aquifers.

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