Exposure and Health

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 361–379 | Cite as

Appraising Groundwater Quality and Health Risks from Contamination in a Semiarid Region of Northwest China

  • Peiyue LiEmail author
  • Xinyan Li
  • Xiangyi Meng
  • Mengna Li
  • Yuting Zhang
Original Paper


This study assessed groundwater quality in a semiarid region of northwest China impacted by industrial and agricultural activities. The goal was to assess the quality of the water for drinking and irrigation, and the groundwater’s effect on human health. Thirty-one groundwater samples were collected from monitoring and hand pumping wells. These wells were distributed over 54 km2, with an average of 5.7 wells per 10 square kilometers. The samples were analyzed for pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), total hardness (TH), fluoride (F), nitrate (NO3–N), nitrite (NO2–N), ammonia nitrogen (NH4–N), major ions (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, HCO3 , SO4 2−, Cl), and heavy metals (Cu, Mn, Zn, As and Cr6+). Groundwater chemistry was described using statistical analysis, and Piper and Gibbs diagrams. An entropy-based matter element extension analysis was performed to quantify the overall groundwater quality. The sodium adsorption ratio, residual sodium carbonate, and soluble sodium percentage were used to assess irrigation water quality. Considering resident age, sex, and exposure pathways, the non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic health risks were estimated using the models recommended by the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China. Study area groundwater was found to be slightly alkaline. For cations, Na+ was most abundant followed by Ca2+, then Mg2+, and then K+. For anions, HCO3 were more abundant than SO4 2− and Cl. Gibbs diagrams indicate that groundwater evaporation influences the development of sulfate-type groundwater, compared to the other groundwater types (bicarbonate and non-dominant types). The groundwater in most parts of the study area is of fair quality, and is marginally acceptable for multiple uses. TDS, TH, NH4−N, NO3−N, and Mn are common contaminants in the alluvial plain. These contaminants originate mainly from industrial and agricultural activities, as well as natural processes. Land irrigated with the groundwater is not exposed to a sodium hazard. However, measures are needed to manage the salinity hazard. The health risk assessment suggests that females and children face higher non-carcinogenic risk than males. The contribution of the contaminants to non-carcinogenic risk is in the following order: NO3 > F> As > Mn > NO2 > Cr > NH4 +> Cu > Zn. Cr contributes more than As to the carcinogenic risk.


Groundwater pollution Water quality assessment Health risk Entropy weight Matter element analysis Human activity 



The research is financially supported by the General Financial Grant from the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2015M580804), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41502234), the Foundation of Outstanding Young Scholar of Chang’an University (310829153509), the Special Financial Grant from the Shaanxi Postdoctoral Science Foundation, the funds granted by the Innovation Training Program for Undergraduate Students of Chang’an University (201510710072), the Science and Technology Innovation Project of Shaanxi Province (2012KTDZ03-05) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (310829151072). Yulong Zhang and Hui Jin are acknowledged for their help in field investigation and sample analysis. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the editors. Their comments are quite constructive and helpful for us to improve the quality of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peiyue Li
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xinyan Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiangyi Meng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mengna Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yuting Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Environmental Science and EngineeringChang’an UniversityXi’anChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Subsurface Hydrology and Ecological Effects in Arid Region of the Ministry of EducationChang’an UniversityXi’anChina

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