Elemental and biomarker characteristics in a Pleistocene aquifer vulnerable to arsenic contamination in the Bengal Delta Plain, India

D. Ghosh, Joyanto Routh, Mårten Dario, Punyasloke Bhadury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


An elevated level of arsenic (As) in the Indo-Gangetic delta plain aquifers has been reported since the 1990s. Organic matter (OM) present in groundwater and aquifer sediments supports the microbial communities in these aquifers. During installation of a drinking water well, 26 sediment intervals of 6 m each were retrieved up till 156 m from a Pleistocene brown sand aquifer (BSA). Grain size distribution, sequential extraction of metals and total extractable lipids were analyzed in each sample. These parameters were statistically correlated in order to establish relationship between the physical vs. inorganic and organic characteristics, and how these properties affected the distribution of As in BSAs. The aquifer sediments consisted of medium to coarse sand except the surface sediments and those at the bottom of the well, which had high clay and slit content. Arsenic (As) concentration in sediments ranged from 2 to 21 mg/kg and indicated a strong correlation with grain size. Arsenic was mostly associated with crystalline oxides and silicate-rich minerals. Arsenic showed significant correlation with Fe in all fractions, and suggests presence of pyrite bound As-bearing minerals in these sediments. The diagnostic sedimentary lipid biomarkers indicated presence of compounds derived from vascular plants and microbial cell wall. This inference was supported by various diagnostic lipid ratios. The biomarkers were abundant in surface and deeper layers, which had high clay and silt content. The BSA sediments indicated preferential preservation of n-alkanes over other functional compounds, which were more reactive and subject to degradation. The thick clay layer at 132–156 m contained visible plant fragments, and OM in this layer indicated preferential preservation of organic carbon most likely due to the absence of specific microbial communities that degraded these compounds and mobilized As. Statistical analyses indicated the influence of selective inorganic and organic components (As, Fe and fatty acids) controlling the co-distribution of various inorganic and organic components in the aquifer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-98
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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