Journal of the Geological Society of India

, Volume 79, Issue 3, pp 302–314 | Cite as

Arsenic exposure through groundwater in the middle Ganga plain in the Varanasi environs, India: A future threat

  • N. Janardhana Raju


The study area covers an about 100 km2 of the middle Ganga plain in Uttar Pradesh, experiencing intensive groundwater extraction. In order to recognize the arsenic contamination zones of the Varanasi environs, sixty eight groundwater samples have been collected and analyzed for major ions, iron and arsenic. Twenty one sediment samples in the four boreholes were also collected to deduce the source of arsenic in the groundwater. The preliminary survey reports for the first time indicates that part of rural and urban population of Varanasi environs are drinking and using for irrigation arsenic contaminated water mostly from hand tube wells (<70 m). The study area is a part of middle Ganga plain which comprises of Quaternary alluvium consists of an alternating succession of clay, clayey silt and sand deposits. The high arsenic content in groundwater samples of the study area indicates that 14% of the samples are exceeding the 10 μg/l and 5% of the samples are exceeding 50 μg/l. The high arsenic concentration is found in the villages such as Bahadurpur, Madhiya, Bhojpur, Ratanpur, Semra, Jalilpur, Kateswar, Bhakhara and Kodupur (eastern side of Ganga River in Varanasi), situated within the newer alluvium deposited during middle Holocene to Recent. The older alluvial aquifers situated in the western side of the Ganga River are arsenic safe (maximum As concentration of 9 μg/l) though the borehole sediments shows high arsenic (mean 5.2 mg/kg) and iron content (529 mg/kg) in shallow and medium depths. This may be due to lack of reducing conditions (i.e organic content) for releasing arsenic into the groundwater. Rainfall infiltration, organic matter from recently accumulated biomass from flood prone belt in the newer alluvium plays a critical role in releasing arsenic and iron present in sediments. The main mechanism for the release of As into groundwater in the Holocene sandy aquifer sediments of Varanasi environs may be due to the reductive dissolution of Fe oxyhydroxide present as coatings on sand grains as well as altered mica content. The high societal problems of this study will help to mitigate the severity of arsenic contamination by providing alternate drinking water resources to the people in middle Ganga plain and to arrange permanent arsenic safe drinking water source by the authorities.


Groundwater quality Arsenic contamination Newer alluvium Middle Ganga plain Varanasi Environs 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Acharyya, S.K., Lahiri, S, Raymahashay, B.C. and Bowmik, A. (2000) Arsenic toxicity of groundwater of the Bengal basin in India and Bangladesh: the role of Quaternary stratigraphy and Holocene sea-level flucturation. Environ. Geol., v.39, pp.1127–1137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acharyya, S.K. (2004) Arsenic trends in groundwater from Quaternary alluvium in Ganga plain and Bengal basin, India subcontinent, Insights into influences of stratigraphy. Gondwana Res., v.8, pp.55–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Acharyya, S.K. (2005). Arsenic levels in groundwater from Quaternary alluvium in the Ganga plain and the Bengal basin, Indian subcontinent: insight into influence of stratigraphy. Gondwana Res., v.8, pp.1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Acharyya, S.K. and Shah, B.A. (2004) Risk of arsenic contamination in groundwater affecting Ganga alluvial plain, India? Environ. Health Perspect, v.112, pp.A19–A20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ahmed, K.M., Imam, M.B., Akhter, S.H., Hasan, M.A., Alam, M.M., Chowdhury, S.Q., Burgess, W.G., Nickson, R., Mcarthur, J.M., Hasan, M.K., Ravenscroft, P. and Rahman, M.M. (1998) Mechanism of arsenic release to groundwater: geochemical and mineralogical evidence. International conference on Arsenic pollution of groundwater in Bangladesh: causes, effects and remedies, Dhaka, pp.125–126.Google Scholar
  6. Ahmed, K.M., Imam, M.B., Akhter, S.H., Hasan, M.A. and Khan, A.A. (2001) Sedimentology and mineralogy of arsenic contaminated aquifers in the Bengal delta of Bangladesh. In: G. Jacks, P. Bhattacharya and A.A. Khan (Eds.), Groundwater arsenic contamination in the Bengal Delta Plain of Bangladesh. Proc. KTH-Dhaka University Seminar. KTH Spec. Publ., TRITA-AMI Report 3084, pp.97–108.Google Scholar
  7. Ahmed Km, Bhattacharya P, Hasan Ma, Akhter Sh, Alam Ma, Bhuyian H, Imam MB, Khanaa and Sracek O (2004) Arsenic enrichment in groundwater of the alluvial aquifers in Bangladesh: an overview. Appl. Geochem., v.19, pp.181–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Anderson, M.P. (1979). Using models to simulate the movement of contaminants through groundwater flow systems. CRC Crit. Rev. Environ. Control., v.8, pp.97–156Google Scholar
  9. Ali, M., Ishiga, H. and Wakatsuki, T. (2003) Distribution and changes in heavy metal contents of paddy soils in different physiographic units of Bangladesh sediments. Soil Science Plant Nutrition, v.49(4), pp.527–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Anawar, H.M., Akai, J., Komaki, K., Terao, H., Yoshioka, T., Ishizuka, T., Safiullah, S. and Kato, K. (2003) Geochemical occurrence of arsenic in groundwater of Bangladesh: sources and mobilization processes. Jour. Geochem. Explor., v.77, pp.109–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. APHA (1995) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 19th edn., Washington: American Public Health Association.Google Scholar
  12. Back, W. (1966) Hydrochemical facies and groundwater flow patterns in the northern part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. USGS Prof. Paper 498-A.Google Scholar
  13. Bhattacharya, P., Chatterjee, D. and Jacks, G. (1997) Occurrence of arsenic contaminated groundwater in alluvial aquifers from Delta plains, eastern India: options for safe drinking water supply. Water Resour. Dev., v.13(1), pp.79–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bhattacharya, P., Jacks, G., Jana, J., Sracek, A., Gustafsson, J.P. and Chatterjee, D. (2001) Geochemistry of the Holocene alluvial sediments of Bengal delta plain from west Bengal, India: Implications on arsenic contamination in groundwater. In: G. Jacks, P. Bhattacharya and A.A. Khan (Eds.), Groundwater arsenic contamination in the Bengal delta plain of Bangladesh, KTH special publication, TRITA-AMI Report 3084, pp.21–40.Google Scholar
  15. Bhattacharya, P., Ahmed, K.M., Hasan, M.A., Broms, S., Fogelstrom, J., Jacks, G., Sracek, O., Von Bromssen, M. and Routh, J. (2006) Mobility of arsenic in groundwater in a part of Brahmanbaria district, NE Bangladesh. In: R. Naidu, E. Smith, G. Owens, P. Bhattacharya and P. Nadebaum (Eds.), Managing arsenic in the environment from soil to human health. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, pp.95–115.Google Scholar
  16. Bhattacharya, P., Hasan, M.A., Sracek, O., Smith, E., Ahmed, K.M., von Bromssen, M., Huq, S.M.I. and Naidu, R. (2009) Groundwater chemistry and arsenic mobilization in the Holocene flood plains in south-central Bangladesh. Environ. Geochem. Health, v.31, pp.23–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. BIS (2003) Indian Standard: drinking water. Specification (first revision), Amendment No 2, September 2003, New Delhi.Google Scholar
  18. Chakraborti, D., Mukherjee, S.C., Pati, S., Sengupta, M.K., Rahman, M.M., Chowdhury, U.K., Lodh, D., Chanda, C.R. and Chakraborty, A.K. (2003) Arsenic groundwater contamination in middle Ganga plain, Bihar, India: a future Danger? Environ Health Perspect, v.111, pp.1194–1200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chakraborti, D., Sengupta, M.K., Rahman, M.M., Ahmed, S., Chowdhury, U.K., Hossain, M.A., Mukherjee, S.C., Pati, S., Saha, K.C., Dutta, R.N. and Quamruzzaman, Q. (2004) Groundwater arsenic contamination and its health effects in the Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra plain. Jour. Environ. Monit., v.6, pp.64–74.Google Scholar
  20. Charlet, L., Chakraborty, S., Appelo, C.A.J., Roman-Ross, G., Nath, B., Ansari, A.A., Lanson, M., Chatterjee, D. and Mallik, S.B. (2007). Chemodynamics of an arsenic “hotspot” in a West Bengal aquifer: a field and reactive transport modeling study. Appld. Geochem., v.22, pp.1273–1292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chauhan, D., Nickson, R., Iyengar, L. and Sankararamakrishnan N. (2009). Groundwater geochemistry and mechanism of mobilization of arsenic into the groundwater of Ballia district, UP, India. Chemosphere, v.75(1), pp.83–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Das, B., Nayak, B., Pal, A., Ahamed, S., Hossain, A., Sengupta, M.K., Rahman, M.M., Maity, S., Saha, K.C., Chakraborti, D., Mukherjee, S.C., Mukherjee, A., Pati, S., Dutta, R.N. and Quamruzzaman, Q. (2008) In groundwater for sustainable development — problems, perspectives and challenges. P. Bhattacharya, A.L. Ramanathan, J. Bundschuh, A.K. Keshari and C. Chandrasekharn (Eds.), Balkema Book, Taylor & Francis, pp.257–269.Google Scholar
  23. Dasgupta, S. (1997) Lithostratigraphy and geochemical studies of limestone formations of Rohtas subgroup in Bihar, Indian Minerals, v.51, pp.77–90.Google Scholar
  24. Davis, S.N. and Dewiest, R.J.M. (1966) Hydrogeology, v.463, New York, Wiley.Google Scholar
  25. Dowling, C.B., Poreda, R.J., Basu, A.R. and Peters, S.L. (2002) Geochemical study of arsenic release mechanisms in the Bengal Basin groundwater. Water Resour. Res., v.38, pp.1173–1190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. DPHE (1999) Groundwater studies for arsenic contamination in Bangladesh; Rapid investigation phase. Final Report, Mott MacDonald Ltd and British Geological Survey, Report for the Department for Public Health Engineering and the Department for International Development.Google Scholar
  27. Goodbred, S.L. and Kuehl, S.A. (2000) The significance of large sediment supply, active tectonism, and eustasy on margin sequence development: late Quaternary stratigraphy and evolution of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. Sediment. Geol., v.133, pp.227–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Harvey, C.F., Swartz, C.H., Badruzzaman, A.B.M., Keon-Blute, N., Yu, W., Ali, M.A., Jay J., Beckie, R., Niedan, V., Brabander, D., Oates, P.M., Ashfaque, K.N., Islam, S., Hemond, H.F. and Ahmed, M.F. (2002) Arsenic mobility and groundwater extraction in Bangladesh. Science, v.298, pp.1602–1606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hasan, M.A., Ahmed, K.M., Sracek, O., Bhattacharya, P., Von Bromssen, M., Broms, S., Fogelstrom, J., Mazumder, M.L. and Jacks, G. (2007). Arsenic in shallow groundwater of Bangladesh: investigations from three different physiographic settings. Hydrogeol. Jour., v.15, pp.1507–1522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hasan, M.A., Von Bromssen, M., Bhattacharya, P., Ahmed, K.M., Sikdar, A.M., Jacks, G. and Sracek, O. (2009) Geochemistry and mineralogy of shallow alluvial aquifers in Daudkandi upazila in the Meghna flood plain, Bangladesh. Environ. Geol., v.57, pp.499–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Islam, F.S., Gault, A.G., Boothman, C., Polya, D.A., Charnock, J.M., Chatterjee, D. and Lloyd, J.R. (2004). Role of metal reducing bacteria in arsenic release from Bengal delta sediments. Nature, v.430, pp.68–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kansakar, D.R. (2004) Geologic and geomorphologic characteristics of arsenic contaminated groundwater areas in Terai, Nepal. In: D.R. Kansakar (Ed.), Arsenic testing and finalization of groundwater legislation project; summary project report, Lalitpur, Nepal. H.M. Govt. of Nepal, Department of Irrigation, pp.31–47.Google Scholar
  33. Kapaj, S., Peterson, H., Liber, K. and Bhattacharya, P. (2006) Human health effects from chronic arsenic poisoning — a review. Jour. Environ. Sci. Health, Part A. v.41(10), pp.2399–2428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kumar, M., Kumari, K., Ramanathan, A.L. and Saxena, R. (2007) A comparative evaluation of groundwater suitability for irrigation and drinking purposes in two agriculture dominated districts of Punjab, India. Environ. Geol., v.53, pp.553–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kumar, M., Sharma, B., Ramanathan, A.L., Rao, M.S. and Kumar, B. (2009) Nutrient chemistry and salinity mapping of the Delhi aquifer, India: source identification perspective. Environ. Geol., v.56, pp.1171–1181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kumar, M., Kumar, P., Ramanathan, A.L., Bhattacharya, P., Thunvik, R., Singh, U.K., Tsujimura, M. and Sracek, O. (2010). Arsenic enrichment in groundwater in the middle Gangetic plain of Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh, India. Jour. Geochem. Explor., v.105, pp.83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lovley, D.R. and Chapelle, F.H. (1995) Deep subsurface microbial processes. Rev. Geophys., v.33, pp.365–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lynda, M., Knobeloch, K., Zierold, M. and Anderson, H.A. (2006) Association of arsenic contaminated drinking water with prevalence of skin cancer in Wisconsin’s Fox river valley. Jour. Health, Population and Nutrition, v.24, pp.206–213.Google Scholar
  39. Mallik, S. and Rajagopal, N. (1996) Groundwater development in the arsenic affected alluvial belt of West Bengal — some questions. Curr. Sci., v.70, pp.956–958.Google Scholar
  40. Mandal, B.K., Chowdhury, T.R., Samanta, G., Basu, G.K., Chowdhury, P.P. and Chanda, C.R. (1996). Arsenic in groundwater in seven districts of West Bengal, India — the biggest arsenic calamity in the world. Curr. Sci., v.70, pp.976–986.Google Scholar
  41. Mcarthur, J.M., Ravenscroft, P., Safiullah, S. and Thirlwall, M.F. (2001) Arsenic in groundwater: testing pollution mechanism for sedimentary aquifers in Bangladesh. Water Resour. Res., v.37(1), pp.109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mukherjee, A.B. and Bhattacharya, P. (2001) Arsenic in groundwater in the Bengal delta plain: slow poisoning in Bangladesh. Environ. Rev., v.9, pp.189–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nickson, R.T. (1997) Arsenic in groundwater, Central Bangladesh. Unpublished M.Sc., thesis, Univ. College London, London.Google Scholar
  44. Nickson, R.T., Mcarthur, J., Burgess, W., Ahmed, K.M., Ravenscroft, P. and Rahman, M. (1998) Arsenic poisoning of Bangladesh groundwater. Nature, v.395, pp.338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nickson, R., Mcarthur, J.M., Ravenscroft, P., Burges, W.G. and Ahmed, K.M. (2000) Mechanism of arsenic release to groundwater, Bangladesh and West Bengal. Appld. Geochem., v.15, pp.403–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. NRECA (1997) Report of study of the impact of the Bangladesh rural electrification program on groundwater quality. Prepared for Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board by NRECA International with personnel provided by the Johnson Company Inc. (USA) and ICDDR, B(Dhaka) for USAID.Google Scholar
  47. Nriagu, J.O., Bhattacharya, P., Mukherjee, A.B., Bundschuh, J., Zevenhoven, R. and Loeppert, R.H. (2007) Arsenic in soil and groundwater: an overview. In: P. Bhattacharya, A.B. Mukherjee, J. Bundschuh, R. Zevenhoven and R.H. Loeppert (Eds.), Arsenic in soil and groundwater environment: Biogeochemical interactions, health effects and remediation, trace metals and other contaminants in the environment. Elsevier Publication, pp.3–60.Google Scholar
  48. Piper, A.M. (1953). A graphic procedure in the geochemical interpretation of water analysis. USGS Groundwater Note, No. 12, 63 p.Google Scholar
  49. Rahman, M.M., Nag, J.C. and Naidu, R. (2009) Chronic exposure of arsenic via drinking water and its adverse health impacts on humans. Environ. Geochem. Health., v.31, pp.189–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Raju, N.J. (2007) Hydrogeochemical parameters for assessment of groundwater quality in the upper Gunjanaeru River basin, Cuddapah district, Andhra Pradesh, South India. Environmental Geol., v.52, pp.1067–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Raju, N.J. and Reddy, T.V.K. (2007) Environmental and urbanization affect on groundwater resources in pilgrim town of Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, South India. Jour. Appld. Geochem., v.9(2), pp.212–223.Google Scholar
  52. Raju, N.J., Ram, P. and Dey, S. (2009). Groundwater quality in the lower Varuna River basin, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh, India. Jour. Geol. Soc. India, v.73, pp.178–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Raju, N.J., Shukla, U.K. and Ram, P. (2011). Hydrogeochemistry for the assessment of groundwater quality in Varanasi: a fasturbanizing center in Uttar Pradesh, India. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, v.173, pp.279–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ravenscroft, P., Burgess, W.G., Ahmed, K.M., Burren, M. and Perrin, J. (2005) Arsenic in groundwater of the Bengal Basin, Bangladesh: distribution, field relations, and hydrological setting. Hydrogeol. Jour., 13:727–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Routh, J., Bhattacharya, P., Jacks, G., Ahmed, K.M., Khan, A.A. and Rahman, M.M. (2000) Arsenic geochemistry of Tala groundwater and sediments from Satkhira district, Bangladesh. EOS Trans. Amer. Geophys. Union, v.81, pp.550.Google Scholar
  56. Saha, D., Sreehari, S.S., Shailendra, N.D. and Kuldeep, G.B. (2010) Evaluation of hydrogeochemical processes in arsenic contaminated alluvial aquifers in parts of mid-Ganga basin, Bihar, eastern India. Environ. Earth Sci., v.61, pp.799–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sahu, S., Raju, N.J. and Saha, D. (2010) Active tectonics and geomorphology in the Sone-Ganga alluvial tract in mid-Ganga Basin, India. Quaternary Internat., v.227, pp.116–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sankararamakrishnan, N., Chauhan, D., Nickson, R.T. and Iyengar, L. (2008) Evaluation of two commercial field test kits used for screening of groundwater for arsenic in northern India. Sci. Total Environ., v.401, pp.162–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Saunders, J.A., Pritchett, M.A. and Cook, R.B. (1997) Geochemistry of biogenic pyrite and ferromanganese coatings from a small watershed: a bacterial connection: Geomicrobiol Jour., v.14, pp.203–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Shah, B.A. (2008) Role of Quaternary stratigraphy on arsenic contaminated groundwater from parts of Middle Ganga Plain, UP-Bihar, India. Environ. Geol., v.53, pp.1553–1561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shah, B.A. (2010) Arsenic contaminated groundwater in Holocene sediments form parts of middle Ganga plain, Uttar Pradesh, India. Curr. Sci., v.98(10), pp.1359–1365.Google Scholar
  62. Shukla, U.K. and Raju, N.J. (2008) Migration of the Ganga River and its implication on hydro-geological potential of Varanasi area, UP, India. Jour Earth System Sci., v.117(4), pp.489–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Singh M, Singhak, Swati, Srivastava N, Singh S and Chowdhary (2010) Arsenic mobility in fluvial environment of the Ganga Plain, northern India. Environ. Earth Sci., v.59, pp.1703–1715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sinha, R. and Friend, P.F. (1994) River systems and their flux, Indo-Gangetic plains, Northern Bihar, India. Sedimentology, v.41, pp.825–845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sinha T.K. (2003) Groundwater conditions and its quality in Varanasi city. Indian Jour. Geomorphology, v.8(1–2), pp.153–154.Google Scholar
  66. Smedley, P.L. and Kinnburgh, D.G. (2002). A review of the source, behavior and distribution of arsenic in natural waters. Appld. Geochem., v.17, pp.517–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smith, A.H., Biggs, M.L., Moore, L., Haque, R., Steinmaus, C., Chung, J., Hernandez, A. and Lopepero, P. (1999) In: Arsenic Exposure and Health Effects. W.R. Chappell, C.O. Abernathy and R.L. Calderon (Eds.), Elesvier Science, Oxford, UK, pp.191–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Tandon, A. (2007) Punjab groundwater becoming more toxic. The Tribute, June 6, Chandigarh, India.Google Scholar
  69. WHO (1993) Guidelines for drinking water quality. Recommendations, 2nd edn, Vol. 1, WHO, Geneva.Google Scholar
  70. Yamazaki, C., Ishiga, H., Ahmed, F., Itoh, K., Suyama, K. and Yamamoto, H. (2003) Vertical distribution of arsenic in Ganges delta sediments in Deuli village, Bangladesh. Soil Science Plant Nutrition, v.49(4), pp.567–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Geological Society of India 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental SciencesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations