Natural arsenic contamination of groundwater, increasingly recognized as a threat to human health worldwide, is characterized by arsenic concentrations that vary sharply over short distances. Variation in arsenic levels in the Mahomet aquifer system, a regional glacial aquifer in central Illinois, appears to arise from variable rates of bacterial sulfate reduction in the subsurface, not differences in arsenic supply. Where sulfate-reducing bacteria are active, the sulfide produced reacts to precipitate arsenic, or coprecipitate it with iron, leaving little in solution. In the absence of sulfate reduction, methanogenesis is the dominant type of microbial metabolism, and arsenic accumulates to high levels.

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