Pit latrines are one of the most common human excreta disposal systems in low-income countries, and their use is on the rise as countries aim to meet the sanitation-related target of the Millennium Development Goals. There is concern, however, that pit latrine discharges of chemical and microbial contaminants to groundwater may negatively affect human health.

Tens of millions of people in south and southeast Asia routinely consume ground water that has unsafe arsenic levels. Using hydrologic and (bio)geochemical measurements, the researchers show that on the minimally disturbed Mekong delta of Cambodia, arsenic is released from near-surface, river-derived sediments and transported, on a centennial timescale, through the underlying aquifer back to the river.