NUI Galway Study Finds Elevated Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater

Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences, NUI Galway in the lab carrying out water analysis using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry.
Feb 19 2019 Posted: 08:41 GMT

Researchers from Earth and Ocean Sciences at NUI Galway in collaboration with DIT and UL have carried out a study in Co. Kerry examining how arsenic is distributed in the groundwater. The results have shown elevated levels of arsenic in the water chemistry caused by the underlying bedrock were above the Wold Health Organisation limits of 10 ppb (part per billion). The study was published in the open access journal, Frontiers in Environmental Science.

A previous national study in Ireland in 2016, carried out by the same research team at
NUI Galway found that certain regions across the country had elevated levels of naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater and again identified bedrock as a major controlling factor on the arsenic concentrations. On average in Ireland, groundwater used as drinking water for both public and private sources is at 25%.

Arsenic is a chemical element that can occur naturally in many rock types. It can be very harmful to people and has been linked to developing lung, skin, and bladder cancer, as well as heart disease. Short term exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrohoea.

In Co. Kerry, a relationship has been found between arsenic and groundwater and surrounding sandstones which indicates geology as a strong predictor of arsenic in groundwater. The Co. Kerry dataset forms an amalgamation of three datasets; drinking water supplies, well water grant applications and public groundwater sources, with the majority of samples coming from private sources. However, more targeted studies in the future will be needed to confirm this and further understand local-scale variations.

Lead author of the study, Dr Liam Morrison, from Earth and Ocean Sciences at
NUI Galway, said:
“Co. Kerry is one of the most intensively monitored regions in Europe in terms of assessing groundwater quality because of the presence of good analytical infrastructure and expertise within the local authority. This study showed the value of using a regional-scale groundwater chemistry dataset with an already-existing national approach from our previous national study to identify potential controlling factors on arsenic concentrations in groundwater. This research has paved the way for applying the methodology used in Ireland across Europe and further afield to assess groundwater quality. It also discusses whether groundwater chemistry sampling on this scale can assist in future mineral exploration, as well as developing high quality public and private water supplies.”

This study has used an approach which integrates geological, land use and hydrogeological data in order to reveal potential controls of arsenic and other contaminants in groundwater which will be of interest to researchers in other regions around the world. With the growing body of secondary groundwater datasets being generated in Europe and elsewhere, the methods presented here will be of interest in the future, aimed at guiding future development and sustainability of good quality water resources.

The study was carried out in collaboration with The Geological Survey of Ireland and Kerry County Council and was the research was grant-aided by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources under the National Geoscience Programme.

To read the full study in Frontiers in Environmental Science, visit:


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