Natural attenuation process via microbial oxidation of arsenic in a high Andean watershed

Eduardo D. Leiva, Consuelo d.P. Rámila, Ignacio T. Vargas, Cristian R. Escauriaza, Carlos A. Bonilla, Gonzalo E. Pizarro, John M. Regan, Pablo A. Pasten

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48 Scopus citations


Rivers in northern Chile have arsenic (As) concentrations at levels that are toxic for humans and other organisms. Microorganism-mediated redox reactions have a crucial role in the As cycle; the microbial oxidation of As (As(III) to As(V)) is a critical transformation because it favors the immobilization of As in the solid phase. We studied the role of microbial As oxidation for controlling the mobility of As in the extreme environment found in the Chilean Altiplano (i.e., >. 4000. meters above sea level (masl) and < 310. mm annual rainfall), which are conditions that have rarely been studied. Our model system was the upper Azufre River sub-basin, where the natural attenuation of As from hydrothermal discharge (pH. 4-6) was observed. As(III) was actively oxidized by a microbial consortium, leading to a significant decrease in the dissolved As concentrations and a corresponding increase in the sediment's As concentration downstream of the hydrothermal source. In-situ oxidation experiments demonstrated that the As oxidation required biological activity, and microbiological molecular analysis confirmed the presence of As(III)-oxidizing groups (aroA-like genes) in the system. In addition, the pH measurements and solid phase analysis strongly suggested that the As removal mechanism involved adsorption or coprecipitation with Fe-oxyhydroxides. Taken together, these results indicate that the microorganism-mediated As oxidation contributed to the attenuation of As concentrations and the stabilization of As in the solid phase, therefore controlling the amount of As transported downstream. This study is the first to demonstrate the microbial oxidation of As in Altiplano basins and its relevance in the immobilization of As.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-502
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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