Faecal and nitrate contamination in the groundwater of Mardan district, Pakistan


This study aimed to determine the status of groundwater contamination with faecal coliform and nitrate in the rural areas of Mardan district, Pakistan. Both analytes require regular monitoring according to the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) of Pakistan. Groundwater samples (n = 100) were collected from 25 villages across four zones. Samples were analysed for physicochemical parameters including pH, electrical conductivity (EC), Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination, nitrite, and nitrate (\({\mathrm{NO}}_{2}^{ - }\) and \({\mathrm{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\)). Whilst the average concentrations of \({\mathrm{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\) in the water samples were within the permissible limits of 50 mg L−1 set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and NEQS two villages exceeded the safety limits. Non-carcinogenic health risks of \({\mathrm{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\) were estimated in terms of average daily dose (ADD) and hazard quotient (HQ). The HQ values for \({\mathrm{NO}}_{3}^{ - }\) were > 1 for children signifying potential health risks; however, the adult population had HQ < 1 which indicates no risk. Groundwater samples tested positive for E. coli contamination in 13 villages, suggesting that residents may be living at risk of various microbial diseases due to drinking of contaminated water. The findings of this study provide valuable baseline data for groundwater researchers, policymakers, and the local public health department.

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The authors are grateful to Dr Michael Watts (British Geological Survey) for his useful feedback on the manuscript.


Funding for this project was provided by the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan under International Research Support Initiative Programme (IRSIP 35 BMS 20).

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ZR, SA, RF, SK, IA, OSH, HK, and BK conceived the research idea and designed the experiments. ZR and SA collected and processed the samples. ZR, RF, and BK analysed the samples. ZR, SA, RF, SK, IA, OSH, HK, and BK processed and analysed the data. ZR wrote the manuscript with support and feedback from all the authors.

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Correspondence to Zia ur Rahman.

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Rahman, Z.u., Ahmad, S., Fidel, R. et al. Faecal and nitrate contamination in the groundwater of Mardan district, Pakistan. Environ Geochem Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-021-00848-8

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  • Nitrate
  • Groundwater
  • Risk assessment
  • E. coli
  • Public health