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The Cambridge Arsenic Project

A global interdisciplinary study of arsenic contamination of groundwater, surface water and soils: its occurrence, causes, impacts and mitigation

The project aims to investigate the geographical and other aspects of the problems of arsenic in groundwater that is used for drinking and in irrigation. The study aims principally to synthesise existing material and identify research and other needs that will improve the predictability of arsenic contamination and indicate the best ways of avoiding or reducing the impacts. The study will pursue an integrated approach to the following topics:

  1. The distribution of natural arsenic pollution, its characteristics, and human and economic consequences.
  2. Geological and geochemical causes of arsenic pollution; the hydrogeological behaviour of arsenic in aquifers; the long-term fate of arsenic, and the sustainability of groundwater abstraction in affected regions.
  3. The health, social and economic impacts, from geographical and risk-based, rather than clinical perspective, with an emphasis on managing the risks posed
  4. Impacts of using arsenic-rich water in irrigation and its long-term consequences for the sustainability of agriculture.
  5. Managing water supplies affected or threatened by arsenic pollution; long-term and sustainable groundwater abstractions; developing alternative water sources.
  6. Methods to remove arsenic from, or reduce arsenic concentrations in groundwater; comparison of techniques; and evaluation of field performance.
  7. Testing methods for arsenic; water supply monitoring; and investigation techniques.
  8. Developing a methodology for predicting the occurrence of natural arsenic pollution.

Although the scope is global, the project places a strong emphasis on issues affecting poorer countries and communities, and will involve visits to selected countries. The project work will include a number of study visits to affected areas. The principal outputs of the project will be the publication of a low-cost and widely distributed book that provides an international overview of the issues listed above, and organising a conference to promote discussion of the issues raised.

RGS Arsenic Conference

One of the principal outputs of the study was a symposium to present up to date perspectives on arsenic pollution around the world. The symposium was held on 29th August 2007 at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London, as part of the RGS Annual International Conference.

Research team

The principal members of the Cambridge Arsenic Project are:

  • Keith Richards, Professor of Geography in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.
  • Peter Ravenscroft, hydrogeologist and Research Associate in the Department of Geography, previously worked on water resources, supply and arsenic pollution in Bangladesh for more than 10 years. He published the first book on groundwater resources in Bangladesh.
  • Hugh Brammer, Soil scientist and environmentalist, who worked on agriculture and soils in Bangladesh for 30 years, and has written five books on agriculture, soils and development in Bangladesh.

Book: Arsenic Pollution: A Global Synthesis

A book, Arsenic Pollution: A Global Synthesis is in preparation. It presents an interdisciplinary view of natural arsenic pollution of groundwater, surface water and soils, encompassing the occurrence, causes, impacts and management of this global problem.

Maps

The following maps of arsenic distribution are not included in the book, but may be of interest.

Literature database

This database contains references to 1400 books, papers and reports relating to arsenic or arsenic affecting areas. The records can be searched and classified by geographic and technical criteria.

We hope to make this available online in due course.