Subsurface iron and arsenic removal: low-cost technology for community-based water supply in Bangladesh

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The principle of subsurface or in situ iron and arsenic removal is that aerated water is periodically injected into an anoxic aquifer through a tube well, displacing groundwater containing Fe(II). An oxidation zone is created around the tube well where Fe(II) is oxidised. The freshly formed iron hydroxide surfaces provide new sorption sites for soluble Fe(II) and arsenic. The system's efficiency is determined based on the ratio between abstracted volume with reduced iron/arsenic concentrations (V) and the injected volume (Vi). In the field study presented in this paper, the small-scale application of this technology was investigated in rural Bangladesh. It was found that at small injection volumes (<1 m3) iron removal was successful and became more effective with every successive cycle. For arsenic, however, the system did not prove to be very effective yet. Arsenic retardation was only limited and breakthrough of 10 μg/L (WHO guideline) was observed before V/Vi=1, which corresponds to arrival of groundwater at the well. Possible explanations for insufficient arsenic adsorption are the short contact times within the oxidation zone, and the presence of competing anions, like phosphate.

Keywords: arsenic, Bangladesh, community-based, drinking water, iron, subsurface

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