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Anaerobic Disposal of Arsenic-Bearing Wastes Results in Low Microbially Mediated Arsenic Volatilization

  • Author(s): Webster, TM
  • Reddy, RR
  • Tan, JY
  • Van Nostrand, JD
  • Zhou, J
  • Hayes, KF
  • Raskin, L
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2016 American Chemical Society. The removal of arsenic from drinking water sources produces arsenic-bearing wastes, which are disposed of in a variety of ways. Several disposal options involve anaerobic environments, including mixing arsenic waste with cow dung, landfills, anaerobic digesters, and pond sediments. Though poorly understood, the production of gaseous arsenic species in these environments can be a primary goal (cow dung mixing) or an unintended consequence (anaerobic digesters). Once formed, these gaseous arsenic species are readily diluted in the atmosphere. Arsenic volatilization can be mediated by the enzyme arsenite S-adenosylmethionine methyltransferase (ArsM) or through the enzymes involved in methanogenesis. In this study, methanogenic mesocosms with arsenic-bearing ferric iron waste from an electrocoagulation drinking water treatment system were used to evaluate the role of methanogenesis in arsenic volatilization using methanogen inhibitors. Arsenic volatilization was highest in methanogenic mesocosms, but represented <0.02% of the total arsenic added. 16S rRNA cDNA sequencing, qPCR of mcrA transcripts, and functional gene array-based analysis of arsM expression, revealed that arsenic volatilization correlated with methanogenic activity. Aqueous arsenic concentrations increased in all mesocosms, indicating that unintended contamination may result from disposal in anaerobic environments. This highlights that more research is needed before recommending anaerobic disposal intended to promote arsenic volatilization.

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