Sources of arsenic and fluoride in highly contaminated soils causing groundwater contamination in Punjab, Pakistan

Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2009 May;56(4):693-706. doi: 10.1007/s00244-008-9239-x. Epub 2008 Oct 21.


Highly contaminated groundwater, with arsenic (As) and fluoride (F(-)) concentrations of up to 2.4 and 22.8 mg/L, respectively, has been traced to anthropogenic inputs to the soil. In the present study, samples collected from the soil surface and sediments from the most heavily polluted area of Punjab were analyzed to determine the F(-) and As distribution in the soil. The surface soils mainly comprise permeable aeolian sediment on a Pleistocene terrace and layers of sand and silt on an alluvial flood plain. Although the alluvial sediments contain low levels of F, the terrace soils contain high concentrations of soluble F(-) (maximum, 16 mg/kg; mean, 4 mg/kg; pH > 8.0). Three anthropogenic sources were identified as fertilizers, combusted coal, and industrial waste, with phosphate fertilizer being the most significance source of F(-) accumulated in the soil. The mean concentration of As in the surface soil samples was 10.2 mg/kg, with the highest concentration being 35 mg/kg. The presence of high levels of As in the surface soil implies the contribution of air pollutants derived from coal combustion and the use of fertilizers. Intensive mineral weathering under oxidizing conditions produces highly alkaline water that dissolves the F(-) and As adsorbed on the soil, thus releasing it into the local groundwater.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenicals / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fluorides / analysis*
  • Fresh Water / chemistry*
  • Pakistan
  • Particle Size
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Arsenicals
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Fluorides