Elevated concentrations of arsenic in water supplies represent a worldwide health concern. In at least 14 countries of South America, high levels have been detected relative to international standards and guidelines. Within these countries, the high plateau referred to as the “Altiplano-Puna”, encompassing areas of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Perú, exhibits high arsenic concentrations that could be affecting 3 million inhabitants. The origins of arsenic in the Altiplano-Puna plateau are diverse and are mainly natural in origin. Of the natural sources, the most important correspond to mineral deposits, brines, hot springs, and volcanic rocks, whereas anthropogenic sources are related to mining activities and the release of acid mine drainage (AMD). Arsenic is found in all water types of the Altiplano-Puna plateau over a wide range of concentrations (0.01 mg·L −1 < As in water > 10 mg·L −1 )which in decreasing order correspond to: AMD, brines, saline waters, hot springs, rivers affected by AMD, rivers and lakes, and groundwater. Despite the few studies which report As speciation, this metalloid appears mostly in its oxidized form (As[V])and its mobility is highly susceptible to the influence of dry and wet seasons. Once arsenic is released from its natural sources, it also precipitates in secondary minerals where it is generally stable in the form of saline precipitates and Fe oxides. In relation to human health, arsenic adaptation has been detected in some aboriginal communities of the Puna together with an efficient metabolism of this metalloid. Also, the inefficient methylation of inorganic As in women of the Altiplano might lead to adverse health effects such as cancer. Despite the health risks of living in this arsenic-rich environment with limited water resources, not all of the Altiplano-Puna is properly characterized and there exists a lack of information regarding the basic geochemistry of arsenic in the region.
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