Hydrogeological and geochemical assessment of aquifer systems with geogenic arsenic in Southeastern Bangladesh Targeting low arsenic aquifers for safe drinking water supplies in Matlab

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Naturally occurring arsenic (As) in Holocene aquifers in Bangladesh have undermined a long success of supplying the population with safe drinking water. Arsenic is mobilised in reducing environments through reductive dissolution of Fe(III)-oxyhydroxides. Several studies have shown that many of the tested mitigation options have not been well accepted by the people. Instead, local drillers target presumed safe groundwater on the basis of the colour of the sediments. The overall objective of the study has thus been focussed on assessing the potential for local drillers to target As safe groundwater. The specific objectives have been to validate the correlation between aquifer sediment colours and groundwater chemical composition, characterize aqueous and solid phase geochemistry and dynamics of As mobility and to assess the risk for cross-contamination of As between aquifers in Daudkandi and Matlab Upazilas in SE-Bangladesh. In Matlab, drillings to a depth of 60 m revealed two distinct hydrostratigraphic units, a strongly reducing aquifer unit with black to grey sediments overlies a patchy sequence of weathered and oxidised white, yellowish-grey to reddish-brown sediment. The aquifers are separated by an impervious clay unit. The reducing aquifer is characterized by high concentrations of dissolved As, DOC, Fe and PO43--tot. On the other hand, the off-white and red sediments contain relatively higher concentrations of Mn and SO42- and low As. Groundwater chemistry correlates well with the colours of the aquifer sediments. Geochemical investigations indicate that secondary mineral phases control dissolved concentrations of Mn, Fe and PO43--tot. Dissolved As is influenced by the amount of Hfo, pH and PO43--tot as a competing ion. Laboratory studies suggest that oxidised sediments have a higher capacity to absorb As. Monitored hydraulic heads and groundwater modelling illustrate a complex aquifer system with three aquifers to a depth of 250 m. Groundwater modelling illustrate two groundwater flowsystems: i) a deeper regional predominantly horizontal flow system, and ii) a number of shallow local flow systems. It was confirmed that groundwater irrigation, locally, affects the hydraulic heads at deeper depths. The aquifer system is however fully recharged during the monsoon. Groundwater abstraction for drinking water purposes in rural areas poses little threat for cross-contamination. Installing irrigation- or high capacity drinking water supply wells at deeper depths is however strongly discouraged and assessing sustainability of targeted low-As aquifers remain a main concern. The knowledge gained here can be used for developing guidelines for installing safe wells at similar environments in other areas of Bangladesh.