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Mobility of arsenic in groundwater in the Obuasi gold-mining area of Ghana: some implications for human health

Smedley, P.L.; Edmunds, W.M.; Pelig-Ba, K.B.. 1996 Mobility of arsenic in groundwater in the Obuasi gold-mining area of Ghana: some implications for human health. In: Appleton, J.D.; Fuge, R.; McCall, J.G.H., (eds.) Environmental geochemistry and health : with special reference to developing countries. London, UK, Chapman & Hall, 163-181. (Geological Society Special Publication, 113).

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Abstract/Summary

Arsenic in drinking water from streams, shallow wells and boreholes in the Obuasi gold-mining area of Ghana range between < 2 and 175 μgl−1. The main sources are mine pollution and natural oxidation of sulphide minerals, predominantly arsenopyrite (FeAsS). Streamwaters have been most affected by mining activity and contain some of the highest As concentrations observed. They are also of poor bacteriological quality. Some of the streams have a high As(III) content (As(III)/Astotal > 0.5), probably as a result of methylation and reduction reactions mediated by bacteria and algae. Concentrations of As in groundwaters reach up to 64 μgl−1, being highest in deeper (40–70 m) and more reducing (220–250 mV) waters. The As is thought to build up as a result of the longer residence times undergone by groundwaters in the deeper parts of the aquifer. The proportion of As present as As(III) is also higher in the deeper groundwaters. Deep mine exploration boreholes (70–100 m) have relatively low As contents of 5–17 μgl−1, possibly due to As sorption onto precipitating ferric oxyhydroxides or to localized low As concentrations of sulphide minerals. Median concentrations of inorganic urinary As from sample populations in two villages, one a rural streamwater-drinking community and the other a suburb of Obuasi using groundwater for potable supply, were 42 μgl−1 and 18 μgl−1 respectively. The value for the community drinking groundwater is typical of background concentrations of urinary As. The slightly higher value for the streamwater-drinking community probably reflects different provenance of foodstuffs and higher As concentrations of water sources local to the village. The low value obtained for the inhabitants of the Obuasi suburb, living close to and abstracting groundwater from the area of major mining activity, suggests that groundwater can form a useful potable supply of good inorganic quality provided that deep, long residence time sources are avoided.

Item Type: Publication - Book Section
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1144/GSL.SP.1996.113.01.13
Programmes: BGS Programmes > Other
NORA Subject Terms: Earth Sciences
Health
Date made live: 27 Jan 2011 14:47
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/13242

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