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Theses Doctoral

Developing Improved Strategies of Remediating Arsenic Contaminated Aquifers

Sun, Jing

Groundwater arsenic contamination is currently a global problem, and also a concern at numerous former industrial sites, agricultural sites, landfill sites and mining operations in the U.S. This dissertation aims to develop improved strategies of remediating these arsenic contaminated aquifers. It focuses on two distinct approaches of remediation: (1) mobilizing arsenic from contaminated aquifer sediments to decrease the quantity of arsenic at the source of contamination; and (2) immobilizing arsenic in situ, to decrease the mobility and bioavailability of this arsenic. Optimal remediation may well involve combinations of these two approaches.
Arsenic mobilization using oxalic acid is effective because oxalic acid dissolves arsenic host minerals and competes for sorption sites on those minerals. In this dissertation, oxalic acid treatment was tested using sediments with contrasting iron mineralogies and arsenic contents from the Dover Municipal Landfill and the Vineland Chemical Company Superfund sites. Oxalic acid mobilized arsenic from both sites and the residual sediment arsenic was less vulnerable to microbial reduction than before the treatment. Oxalic acid thus could improve the efficiency of widely used pump-and-treat remediation. Oxalic acid did not remove all of the reactive iron(III) minerals in Vineland sediment samples, and thus released significant quantities of arsenic into solution under reducing conditions than the Dover samples. Therefore, the efficacy of pump-and-treat must consider iron mineralogy when evaluating its overall potential for remediating groundwater arsenic.
Arsenic immobilization occurs by changing the chemical state, or speciation, of arsenic and other elements in the system. Arsenic is often assumed to be immobile in sulfidic environments. In this dissertation, sulfate reduction was stimulated in sediments from the Vineland Superfund site and the Coeur d'Alene mining district. Sulfate reduction in the Coeur d'Alene sediments was more effective at removing arsenic from solution than the Vineland sediments. The Vineland sediments initially contained abundant reactive ferrihydrite, and underwent extensive sulfur cycling during incubation. As a result, arsenic in the Vineland sediments could not be effectively converted to immobile arsenic-bearing sulfides, but instead a part of the arsenic was probably converted to soluble thioarsenates. Therefore, coupling between the iron and sulfur redox cycles must be fully understood for arsenic immobilization by sulfate reduction to be successful.
Arsenic can also be immobilized by retention on magnetite (Fe3O4). Magnetite is stable under a wide range of aquifer conditions including both oxic and iron(III)-reducing environments. In this dissertation, a series of experiments were performed with sediments from the Dover and Vineland Superfund sites, to examine the potential of magnetite for use in arsenic immobilization. Our data suggest that the formation of magnetite can be achieved by the microbial oxidation of ferrous iron with nitrate. Magnetite can incorporate arsenic into its structure during formation, forming a stable arsenic sink. Magnetite, once formed, can also immobilize arsenic by surface adsorption, and thus serve as a reactive filter when contaminated groundwater migrates through the treatment zone. Reactive transport modeling is used for investigating the magnetite based arsenic immobilization strategy and for scaling laboratory results to field environments. Such modeling suggests that the ratio between iron(II) and nitrate in the injectant regulates the formations of magnetite and ferrihydrite, and thus regulates the long-term evolution of the effectiveness of the strategy. The results from field-scale models favor scenarios that rely on the chromatographic mixing of iron(II) and nitrate after injection.
The studies in this dissertation demonstrate that the environmental fate of arsenic depends on the biogeochemical cycling of arsenic, iron, and to a lesser extent, sulfur. The development of effective groundwater arsenic remediation strategies depends on a good understanding of each of the involved processes, and their combinations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Bostick, Benjamin C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 10, 2015