One century of arsenic exposure in Latin America: A review of history and occurrence from 14 countries

Jochen Bundschuh, Marta I. Litter, Faruque Parvez, Gabriela Román-Ross, Hugo B. Nicolli, Jiin Shuh Jean, Chen Wuing Liu, Dina López, María A. Armienta, Luiz R.G. Guilherme, Alina Gomez Cuevas, Lorena Cornejo, Luis Cumbal, Regla Toujaguez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

306 Citations (Scopus)


The global impact on public health of elevated arsenic (As) in water supplies is highlighted by an increasing number of countries worldwide reporting high As concentrations in drinking water. In Latin America, the problem of As contamination in water is known in 14 out of 20 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay. Considering the 10 μg/L limit for As in drinking water established by international and several national agencies, the number of exposed people is estimated to be about 14. million. Health effects of As exposure were identified for the first time already in the 1910s in Bellville (Córdoba province, Argentina). Nevertheless, contamination of As in waters has been detected in 10 Latin American countries only within the last 10 to 15. years. Arsenic is mobilized predominantly from young volcanic rocks and their weathering products. In alluvial aquifers, which are water sources frequently used for water supply, desorption of As from metal oxyhydroxides at high pH (> 8) is the predominant mobility control; redox conditions are moderate reducing to oxidizing and As(V) is the predominant species. In the Andes, the Middle American cordillera and the Transmexican Volcanic Belt, oxidation of sulfide minerals is the primary As mobilization process. Rivers that originate in the Andean mountains, transport As to more densely populated areas in the lowlands (e.g. Rímac river in Peru, Pilcomayo river in Bolivia/Argentina/Paraguay). In many parts of Latin America, As often occurs together with F and B; in the Chaco-Pampean plain As is found additionally with V, Mo and U whereas in areas with sulfide ore deposits As often occurs together with heavy metals. These co-occurrences and the anthropogenic activities in mining areas that enhance the mobilization of As and other pollutants make more dramatic the environmental problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-35
Number of pages34
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jul 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

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