Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Ariel Roys makes this connection here…

The news entitled, “Pumping Draws Arsenic Toward Big-City Aquifer” was reported by The Earth Institute at Columbia University on September 11, 2013.  The news relates the WRE domains of both hydrology and hydraulics in the sense of water quality and in the mechanisms of ground water movement, respectively.  In summary, this article discusses the discovery of the first “clean” aquifer to become contaminated and the possibility that it is due to an increase in ground water pumping.  The field scientists used Helium and Hydrogen dating techniques to track the movement of the arsenic as well as the water from the originally contaminated aquifer.  The study found that the arsenic is moving at a much slower rate than the water; this offers hope that there is still enough time to find a filtering solution before the arsenic reaches an aquifer that supplies Hanoi.  Based on my engineering education and the following sources, my informed opinion is that the facts in the article are accurate.  Motzer (2007) discusses the dating of ground water using Helium and Hydrogen and states that is accurate up to 30 years but can be used until 50 year dating, so an estimate of 40-60 years of groundwater movement is within reason.  However, further studies should be done in areas where the water is closer to the source (thus younger) to compare to the estimated age of water farther along the path.  The World Health Organization (2001) also recognizes the presence of arsenic in drinking water in Southeast Asia and acknowledges the effects it is having on health in the area, which supports the articles claim that adverse health effects are traveling with this water.  Based on critical thinking on this news story, I think some key information was left out on the current distribution of arsenic along the path from the polluted aquifer to the “clean” aquifer that Hanoi relies on beyond saying that a once uncontaminated aquifer has become contaminated.  The movement of arsenic is occurring, but determining where and how fast it will go is a difficult task.

Water resources engineering is an interdisciplinary discipline that involves global, environmental, political, economic and societal matters.  The issues discussed in the article have ties to political and societal problems.  The arsenic pollution is in the Southeast of Asia which encompasses many nations, so control and filtering of the water will most likely result in collaboration (or lack thereof) during the journey to finding a solution.  Arsenic is a carcinogen and can also cause other adverse health effects from exposure which creates the societal problem of having an essentially poisoned population who has no other option but to continue drinking the contaminated water.  An entry in the Encyclopedia of the Earth (2014) also discusses the societal impact of water pollution and states that approximately 50 million deaths occur annually across the world from water pollution.  The cause-effect of arsenic water pollution is as follows – the population will consume contaminated water, become ill or chronically sick which will affect their productivity and overall health and happiness of the society.

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Figure 1- The Red River is colored by the sediments being carried from the Himalayan Plateau and is full of organic carbons which influence the release of arsenic into the groundwater.

References:

Hogan, C. (2014, November 17). Water pollution. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156920/

Motzer, W. (n.d.). Age Dating Groundwater. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://www.grac.org/agedatinggroundwater.pdf

Water-related diseases. (2001, May 1). Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/arsenicosis/en/

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