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When present at elevated levels in drinking water, arsenic is toxic, and magnesian clays are gaining recognition as a source of elevated arsenic in groundwater. In the crust and upper mantle of Earth, arsenic incorporation into clay minerals is influenced by geochemical conditions associated with hydrothermal fluids and metamorphic processes (e.g. serpentinization), meaning that As is a useful tracer of fluid-flow in the deep Earth. To improve understanding of arsenic speciation in groundwater, sediments, soils, and hydrothermal-metamorphic systems, the present study examined arsenic incorporation into magnesian clays by synthesis of serpentine minerals (200oC, 10 d) with varied concentrations of Si, Al, As5+, and As3+. The synthesis experiments produced two distinct crystal types, tubular and platy serpentines, each with 10–15% randomly interstratified talc layers. X-ray absorption spectroscopy indicated that As5+ and As3+ occurred in the tetrahedral sheet. Single-crystal analysis revealed that tubular crystals contained up to 1 wt.% arsenic [Mg2.8(Si1.8As0.2)O5(OH)4] (mean 0.2 wt.% As). The mean composition of platy, high-Al crystals is (Mg1.8Al0.7)(Si2.0)O5(OH)4, and that of platy, medium-Al crystals with As3+ is (Mg2.07Al0.52) (Si1.97As3+0.03)O5(OH)4. Charge, geometry, and radius of tetrahedral AsO43– oxyanions are similar to tetrahedral SiO44–, and this facilitates fixation of As5+ into the tetrahedral sheet of clay minerals. The geometry and size of the larger As3+ in tetrahedral sites (as a pyramidal AsO33– oxyanion) may limit incorporation relative to As5+. Arsenic-bearing Mg clays crystallize in alkaline environments where AsO43– or AsO33– are the dominant As species and where high pH accompanies crystallization of serpentine, talc, chlorite, or Mg-smectite. The presence of tetrahedral As in these clays raises the possibility of tetrahedral As in other Mg clays (e.g. sepiolite or kerolite) as well.

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Funding was provided by NSF-EAR-0959306, the Middlebury College Undergraduate Research Office, and MINECO (CGL2014-55108-P and CGL2017-92600-EXP) with a contribution of FEDER funds. The authors thank Dr. Eli Stavitski for use of the Inner Shell Spectroscopy beamline (8-ID) of the National Synchrotron Light Source II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Brookhaven National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-SC0012704. The authors thank the following for technical expertise and assistance: María del Mar Abad for TEM, Jody Smith for ICPMS, and Eduardo Flores for FTIR.

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Correspondence to P. C. Ryan.

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A note on terminology of arsenic species: to avoid confusion with the often imprecise terms arsenate and arsenite, this article uses “As5+” and “As3+” as much as possible. As used herein, these are effectively equivalent to As(V) and As(III).

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Fig S1.

Se K-edge EXAFS k3 * χ(k) spectra of Serp 5. (PNG 61 kb)

High resolution image (EPS 1134 kb)

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  • Aquifer
  • Arsenic
  • Hydrothermal
  • Mineral synthesis
  • Serpentine
  • Tetrahedral