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Oxidation of Iron Causes Removal of Phosphorus and Arsenic from Streamwater in Groundwater-Fed Lowland Catchments

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journal contribution
posted on 03.03.2015, 00:00 by Stijn Baken, Peter Salaets, Nele Desmet, Piet Seuntjens, Elin Vanlierde, Erik Smolders
The fate of iron (Fe) may affect that of phosphorus (P) and arsenic (As) in natural waters. This study addresses the removal of Fe, P, and As from streams in lowland catchments fed by reduced, Fe-rich groundwater (average: 20 mg Fe L–1). The concentrations of dissolved Fe (<0.45 μm) in streams gradually decrease with increasing hydraulic residence time (travel time) of the water in the catchment. The removal of Fe from streamwater is governed by chemical reactions and hydrological processes: the oxidation of ferrous iron (Fe­(II)) and the subsequent formation of particulate Fe oxyhydroxides proceeds as the water flows through the catchment into increasingly larger streams. The Fe removal exhibits first-order kinetics with a mean half-life of 12 h, a value in line with predictions by a kinetic model for Fe­(II) oxidation. The Fe concentrations in streams vary seasonally: they are higher in winter than in summer, due to shorter hydraulic residence time and lower temperature in winter. The removal of P and As is much faster than that of Fe. The average concentrations of P and As in streams (42 μg P L–1 and 1.4 μg As L–1) are 1 order of magnitude below those in groundwater (393 μg P L–1 and 17 μg As L–1). This removal is attributed to fast sequestration by oxidizing Fe when the water enters oxic environments, possibly by adsorption on Fe oxyhydroxides or by formation of ferric phosphates. The average P and As concentrations in groundwater largely exceed local environmental limits for freshwater (140 μg P L–1 and 3 μg As L–1), but in streams, they are below these limits. Naturally occurring Fe in groundwater may alleviate the environmental risk associated with P and As in the receiving streams.