Measurement of arsenic in groundwater first in Europe

Dr Liam Morrison who led the first national statistical assessment of arsenic contamination in groundwater in the EU.
Dec 13 2016 Posted: 14:45 GMT

Researchers at NUI Galway have completed the first national statistical assessment of arsenic contamination in groundwater in the EU. The research points to elevated levels of naturally occurring arsenic in private wells, particularly in the northeast and the southwest of Ireland.

“Arsenic is not persistently elevated in groundwater throughout Ireland, but the presence of regional hotspots of contamination warrant further detailed investigations”, explains Dr Liam Morrison who led the study which has been published in journal Science of the Total Environment. The article was co-authored by NUI Galway’s Ellen McGrory in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The study drew on available datasets for arsenic, which can occur naturally in certain rock types and thereby affect groundwater. While there are studies focusing on arsenic within the EU, this study presents a statistical approach in determining the spatial distribution of arsenic at a national scale.

“This methodology may be applied in other countries to help understand arsenic contamination of groundwater. The identification of potentially at-risk regions is beneficial prior to the commencement of groundwater source development programmes. If there is a potential high concentration of arsenic, then arsenic removal technologies could be used as remediation.”

There are an estimated 200,000 private domestic and farm boreholes in Ireland. Recent studies have provided evidence to suggest that long-term low-dose arsenic exposure can induce varying chronic health effects. “These can vary from stomach upsets to more chronic ailments”, says Dr Morrison.

In Ireland 25% of public drinking water is derived from groundwater sources rising to 100% in certain localities. Within Europe this figure rises to 75% and 51% in the United States.

Funding for the study was based on research grant-aided by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources under the National Geoscience Programme 2007–2013. The full article can be read at


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