A Systems Approach to Remediating Human Exposure to Arsenic and Fluoride From Overexploited Aquifers

P. S.K. Knappett, P. Farias, G. R. Miller, J. Hoogesteger, Y. Li, I. Mendoza-Sanchez, R. T. Woodward, H. Hernandez, I. Loza-Aguirre, S. Datta, Y. Huang, G. Carrillo, T. Roh, D. Terrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In semiarid agricultural regions, aquifers have watered widespread economic development. Falling water tables, however, drive up energy costs and can make the water toxic for human consumption. The study area is located in central Mexico, where arsenic and fluoride are widely present at toxic concentrations in well water. We simulated the holistic outcomes from three pumping scenarios over 100 years (2020–2120); (S1) pumping rates increase at a similar rate to the past 40 years, (S2) remain constant, or (S3) decrease. Under scenario S1, by 2120, the depth to water table increased to 426 m and energy consumption for irrigation increased to 4 × 109 kWh/yr. Arsenic and fluoride concentrations increased from 14 to 46 μg/L and 1.0 to 3.6 mg/L, respectively. The combined estimated IQ point decrements from drinking untreated well water lowered expected incomes in 2120 by 27% compared to what they would be with negligible exposure levels. We calculated the 100-year Net Present Value (NPV) of each scenario assuming the 2020 average crop value to water footprint ratio of 0.12 USD/m3. Without drinking water mitigation, S1 and S3 yielded relative NPVs of −5.96 × 109 and 1.51 × 109 USD, respectively, compared to the base case (S2). The relative NPV of providing blanket reverse osmosis treatment, while keeping pumping constant (S2), was 11.55 × 109 USD and this gain increased when combined with decreased pumping (S3). If a high value, low water footprint crop was substituted (broccoli, 1.51 USD/m3), the net gains from increasing pumping were similar in size to those of implementing blanket drinking water treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022GH000592
Pages (from-to)e2022GH000592
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • agriculture
  • aquifer
  • arsenic
  • common pool resource
  • fluoride
  • neurotoxin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Epidemiology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'A Systems Approach to Remediating Human Exposure to Arsenic and Fluoride From Overexploited Aquifers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this