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Nature. 2004 Jul 1;430(6995):68-71.

Role of metal-reducing bacteria in arsenic release from Bengal delta sediments.

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Department of Earth Sciences and Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science, The University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.


The contamination of ground waters, abstracted for drinking and irrigation, by sediment-derived arsenic threatens the health of tens of millions of people worldwide, most notably in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Despite the calamitous effects on human health arising from the extensive use of arsenic-enriched ground waters in these regions, the mechanisms of arsenic release from sediments remain poorly characterized and are topics of intense international debate. We use a microscosm-based approach to investigate these mechanisms: techniques of microbiology and molecular ecology are used in combination with aqueous and solid phase speciation analysis of arsenic. Here we show that anaerobic metal-reducing bacteria can play a key role in the mobilization of arsenic in sediments collected from a contaminated aquifer in West Bengal. We also show that, for the sediments in this study, arsenic release took place after Fe(III) reduction, rather than occurring simultaneously. Identification of the critical factors controlling the biogeochemical cycling of arsenic is one important contribution to fully informing the development of effective strategies to manage these and other similar arsenic-rich ground waters worldwide.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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