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Final Progress Reports: Columbia University: The Resilience of Low-Arsenic Aquifers and their Role in Reducing Human Exposure

Superfund Research Program

The Resilience of Low-Arsenic Aquifers and their Role in Reducing Human Exposure

Project Leader: Alexander F. van Geen
Co-Investigators: Benjamin C. Bostick, Ana Navas-Acien
Grant Number: P42ES010349
Funding Period: 2000-2021

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Final Progress Reports

Year:   2020  2016  2010  2005 

Research carried out under this project in 2010 focused on three themes: (1) deep aquifers of Bangladesh as sources of low-As drinking water, (2) the protection of shallow low-As aquifers more generally by adsorption, and (3) training and education at the village and school level in Bangladesh to reduce As exposure. These activities have resulted this year in five published papers and six submissions.

A non-governmental organization, WaterAid Bangladesh, installed 60 deep (700-800 ft) community wells serving the needs of the cohort of 20,000 men and women living in the study area of Araihazar. The water from all but one of these wells, which needs to be re-installed, now provides thousands of villagers with drinking water that meets the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline for As in drinking water of 10 μg/L. As a result, researchers expect to record a major reduction in the urinary As levels measured under the Trace Metals Core Laboratory and significant improvements in health over the long term that will be quantified under the cohort study and the children’s study. As a service to the Government of Bangladesh, which has already installed ~100,000 deep wells throughout the country, the researchers are initiating the sampling of a subset of 3,000 deep wells distributed across the vulnerable portions of the country. In turn, this will provide the research group with a rich dataset for future investigations. A first batch of 150 samples collected with financial support from the Dhaka office of WHO was analyzed under the Biogeochemistry Core for As, Mn, and other elements of potential health concern. The survey has identified two regions where even deep aquifers are systematically elevated in As but very few well failures in other regions.

Kathleen Radloff has defended her Ph.D. and is preparing three manuscripts for publication, one of which documents how As adsorption protects deeper aquifers against intrusion of shallow contaminated groundwater. Ph.D. student Ivan Mihajlov has conducted some elegant column experiments in the field supporting these results. Dr. Holly Michael of the University of Delaware has new data to predict the vulnerability of deep aquifers of Bangladesh in the coming decades using a regional groundwater flow model. Zahid Aziz has also defended his Ph.D. and submitted two manuscripts focused on processes regulating As concentrations in shallow aquifers.

The research group continues to be involved in the field research of two graduate students at the Mailman School of Public Health. Christine George, supported in part by a Fulbright fellowship, is about to complete a randomized controlled trial in two dozen villages in Bangladesh. Her intervention was designed to compare the impact on household behavior of field-kit testing wells for As by an outsider or a resident of the village. Khalid Khan, supported primarily through the Fogarty training grant, defended his Ph.D. and will continue to analyze as a postdoc the results from a randomized controlled trial designed to determine whether school-level education amplifies the reduced exposure of children anticipated from the recent installation of deep community wells in Araihazar.

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