Abstract

Our recent discovery of hazardous concentrations of arsenic in shallow sedimentary aquifers in Cambodia raises the spectre of future deleterious health impacts on a population that, particularly in non-urban areas, extensively use untreated groundwater as a source of drinking water and, in some instances, as irrigation water. We present here small-scale hazard maps for arsenic in shallow Cambodian groundwaters based on >1000 groundwater samples analysed in the Manchester Analytical Geochemistry Unit and elsewhere. Key indicators for hazardous concentrations of arsenic in Cambodian groundwaters include: (1) well depths greater than 16 m; (2) Holocene host sediments; and (3) proximity to major modern channels of the Mekong (and its distributary the Bassac). However, high-arsenic well waters are also commonly found in wells not exhibiting these key characteristics, notably in some shallower Holocene wells, and in wells drilled into older Quaternary and Neogene sediments.

It is emphasized that the maps and tables presented are most useful for identifying current regional trends in groundwater arsenic hazard and that their use for predicting arsenic concentrations in individual wells, for example for the purposes of well switching, is not recommended, particularly because of the lack of sufficient data (especially at depths >80 m) and because, as in Bangladesh and West Bengal, there is considerable heterogeneity of groundwater arsenic concentrations on a scale of metres to hundreds of metres. We have insufficient data at this time to determine unequivocally whether or not arsenic concentrations are increasing in shallow Cambodian groundwaters as a result of groundwater-abstraction activities.

You do not currently have access to this article.