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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 

Since 2000, the Columbia University Superfund Program has felt the obligation not only to study the mechanisms of arsenic (As) release and transport in groundwater but also to reduce exposure of the 35,000 villagers from Bangladesh participating in the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study (HEALS). An inventory of the locations over 900 deep wells installed by the government in the HEALS area led to the conclusion that their allocation was far from optimal and probably favored the local elite. This theme was picked up and amplified by a recent Human Rights Watch report entitled Nepotism and Neglect: The Failing Response to Arsenic in the Drinking Water of Bangladesh’s Rural Poor. The issue needs to be addressed as researchers’ systematic observations show that deep wells have remained low in As despite depressurization due to massive municipal pumping for the city of Dhaka, extending into the study area (Choudhury et al., 2016; Mihajlov et al., 2016; Knappett et al., 2016; Khan et al., 2016). Concerning the fundamental mechanisms of As release to groundwater in shallow aquifers, new results relying on radiocarbon dating of phospholipid fatty acids have confirmed that advected reactive carbon is a major of reductive dissolution of iron oxides (Whaley-Martin et al., 2016). This finding has significant implications for gauging the impact of export of reactive carbon from Superfund sites and landfills in the US.

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