Microbially mediated reduction of FeIII and AsV in Cambodian sediments amended with 13C-labelled hexadecane and kerogen

Athanasios Rizoulis, Wafa M. Al Lawati, Richard D. Pancost, David A. Polya, Bart E. Van Dongen, Jonathan R. Lloyd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental context The use of groundwater with elevated concentrations of arsenic for drinking, cooking or irrigation has resulted in the worst mass poisoning in human history. This study shows that organic compounds that can be found in arsenic rich subsurface sediments may be used by indigenous microorganisms, contributing to the release of arsenic from the sediments into the groundwater. This study increases our understanding of the range of organic substrates (and their sources) that can potentially stimulate arsenic mobilisation into groundwaters. Abstract Microbial activity is generally accepted to play a critical role, with the aid of suitable organic carbon substrates, in the mobilisation of arsenic from sediments into shallow reducing groundwaters. The nature of the organic matter in natural aquifers driving the reduction of AsV to AsIII is of particular importance but is poorly understood. In this study, sediments from an arsenic rich aquifer in Cambodia were amended with two 13C-labelled organic substrates. 13C-hexadecane was used as a model for potentially bioavailable long chain n-alkanes and a 13C-kerogen analogue as a proxy for non-extractable organic matter. During anaerobic incubation for 8 weeks, significant FeIII reduction and AsIII mobilisation were observed in the biotic microcosms only, suggesting that these processes were microbially driven. Microcosms amended with 13C-hexadecane exhibited a similar extent of FeIII reduction to the non-amended microcosms, but marginally higher AsIII release. Moreover, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis showed that 65% of the added 13C-hexadecane was degraded during the 8-week incubation. The degradation of 13C-hexadecane was microbially driven, as confirmed by DNA stable isotope probing (DNA-SIP). Amendment with 13C-kerogen did not enhance FeIII reduction or AsIII mobilisation, and microbial degradation of kerogen could not be confirmed conclusively by DNA-SIP fractionation or 13C incorporation in the phospholipid fatty acids. These data are, therefore, consistent with the utilisation of long chain n-alkanes (but not kerogen) as electron donors for anaerobic processes, potentially including FeIII and AsV reduction in the subsurface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-546
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Chemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


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