Contribution of sedimentary organic matter to arsenic mobilization along a potential natural reactive barrier (NRB) near a river: The Meghna river, Bangladesh

Thomas S. Varner, Harshad V. Kulkarni, William Nguyen, Kyungwon Kwak, M. Bayani Cardenas, Peter S.K. Knappett, Ann S. Ojeda, Natalia Malina, Mesbah Uddin Bhuiyan, Kazi M. Ahmed, Saugata Datta

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Elevated dissolved arsenic (As) concentrations in the shallow aquifers of Bangladesh are primarily caused by microbially-mediated reduction of As-bearing iron (Fe) (oxy)hydroxides in organic matter (OM) rich, reducing environments. Along the Meghna River in Bangladesh, interactions between the river and groundwater within the hyporheic zone cause fluctuating redox conditions responsible for the formation of a Fe-rich natural reactive barrier (NRB) capable of sequestering As. To understand the NRB's impact on As mobility, the geochemistry of riverbank sediment (<3 m depth) and the underlying aquifer sediment (up to 37 m depth) was analyzed. A 24-hr sediment-water extraction experiment was performed to simulate interactions of these sediments with oxic river water. The sediment and the sediment-water extracts were analyzed for inorganic and organic chemical parameters. Results revealed no differences between the elemental composition of riverbank and aquifer sediments, which contained 40 ± 12 g/kg of Fe and 7 ± 2 mg/kg of As, respectively. Yet the amounts of inorganic and organic constituents extracted were substantially different between riverbank and aquifer sediments. The water extracted 6.4 ± 16.1 mg/kg of Fe and 0.03 ± 0.02 mg/kg of As from riverbank sediments, compared to 154.0 ± 98.1 mg/kg of Fe and 0.55 ± 0.40 mg/kg of As from aquifer sediments. The riverbank and aquifer sands contained similar amounts of sedimentary organic matter (SOM) (17,705.2 ± 5157.6 mg/kg). However, the water-extractable fraction of SOM varied substantially, i.e., 67.4 ± 72.3 mg/kg in riverbank sands, and 1330.3 ± 226.6 mg/kg in aquifer sands. Detailed characterization showed that the riverbank SOM was protein-like, fresh, low molecular weight, and labile, whereas SOM in aquifer sands was humic-like, older, high molecular weight, and recalcitrant. During the dry season, oxic conditions in the riverbank may promote aerobic metabolisms, limiting As mobility within the NRB.

Original languageEnglish
Article number136289
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Dec
Externally publishedYes

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  • Arsenic
  • Hyporheic zone
  • Meghna river
  • Organic matter
  • Redox transition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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