Occurrence, sources, and spatial distribution of fluoride in the Ganga alluvial aquifer, India

Environ Geochem Health. 2022 Jun 26. doi: 10.1007/s10653-022-01319-4. Online ahead of print.


Groundwater contamination throughout India is a global concern as it feeds more than a billion people. Of all the contaminants, fluoride (F) is one of the most widespread and well documented since its toxic nature pose serious threats to human health. In India, groundwater F concentrations have been extensively studied over the past decades. These studies have generally concluded that the groundwater F concentrations are typically higher than the drinking water standard for human health. Here, we present the occurrence, distribution, and sources of groundwater F in the Kanpur Nagar and Kanpur Dehat districts covering ~ 6000 km2 of the area in the central part of the Ganga Basin. The result revealed significant spatial variability in dissolved F concentration ranging between 0.2 and 5.2 mg/L (average 0.9 ± 0.7 mg/L, n = 172, 1 SD), which is beyond the drinking water guideline (0.5-1.5 mg/L) of the Indian Standards. We find that 31% of groundwater sampled have F content below the optimal requirement of 0.5-1.0 mg/L causing dental caries problems. The F levels only exceeded the safe drinking water limit of 1.5 mg/L in 8% of the groundwater sampled mostly in the urban regions. Fluoride distribution shows a closer resemblance with the spatial distribution pattern of electrical conductivity, and total dissolved solids demonstrate that F in the shallow alluvial aquifers is largely derived from geogenic sources. This is further confirmed by a strong positive correlation (r = 0.91, p < 0.05) observed between chloride-normalized concentration of F and the sum of geogenic elements (∑Li, Rb, Sr, Ba). We additionally performed health risk assessments, which revealed that children are most vulnerable to dental caries (commonly known as tooth decay) and dental fluorosis problems. As F concentrations show large spatial variability in the studied aquifer, we suggest that uniform application of a single de-fluoridation and fluoridation technology on an aquifer or sub-aquifer scale without a detailed well-designed groundwater F survey will have an adverse health impact on local residents as optimal level of F in drinking water may not be compromised.

Keywords: Alluvial aquifers; Fluoride contamination; Health risk; Indo-Gangetic Basin.