, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 3-16

Groundwater contamination with arsenic and other trace elements in an area of the pampa, province of Córdoba, Argentina

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A geochemical study of groundwater of the pampa in the province of Córdoba, Argentina, was performed; the area covered approximately 10,000 km2.

Physical-chemical parameters, dissolved solids, and seven trace elements were determined in 60 selected water samples. Systematic and accurate measurements of arsenic, flourine, and vanadium were performed for the first time. Three trace element contaminants not reported earlier were found: an important one, selenium, and two others of less known effects, uranium and molybdenum.

Eighty-four percent of the water analyzed showed arsenic contents over 0.05 mg/L, maximum contaminant level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1982). The frequency distribution of trace elements was analyzed, and its fit to the lognormal distribution was proved by means of the Pearson and Kolmogorov-Smirnov test; the geographic distribution of the seven trace elements was mapped and its correlation with the anion-cation composition of the water was studied.

The maximum arsenic, fluorine, vanadium, and uranium contents were found in the western part of the area under study, in waters containing dominant alkali metals in the cation composition. Maximum selenium and antimony contents were found in the eastern part of the area, while molybdenum distribution does not show any relationship with the other two groups. In addition, the geographic distribution of the trace elements seems to be related to the subsurface structure, which has been inferred using interactive digital analysis of Landsat imagery. The movements of the subsoil have disturbed surface and subsurface drainage influencing the water salinity and trace element contents.

In order to investigate the origin of the contamination, 54 loess samples were collected in wells at depths ranging from the surface down to the water table. This loess, which has a high proportion of volcanic components, mainly rhyolitic glass, exhibits a chemical composition corresponding to that of a dacite.

The loess and the volcanic glass show anomalous contents of all contaminant trace elements, mainly arsenic and selenium. For this reason loess is considered the most important contamination source in the groundwater under study.