Arsenic in Latin America

  • Marta Irene Litter Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica - CONICET
  • María Aurora Armienta Hernández Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
  • Ruth Esther Villanueva-Estrada Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
  • Edda C. Villaamil Lepori Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)
  • Valentina Olmos Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)


An overview of arsenic (As) presence in waters in Latin America (LA) is presented. Aspects on As occurrence, effects of As on human health, regulations regarding the maximum allowable concentration of As in drinking water, analytical techniques for As determination, and conventional/emerging technologies for As removal developed in LA are mentioned. Arsenic presence has been identified in many LA countries in a range of concentrations, originated from various sources; however, its origin is mainly natural. Main analytical techniques available in LA laboratories are described. Pathologies derived from the chronic consumption of As, the metabolism of As in the human body and the effects of the different As chemical forms are detailed. A list of conventional and emerging technologies for As removal in LA waters for human consumption, for large, medium and small populations, rural and periurban, is reported. Conclusions and recommendations to face the problem are included.

Author Biographies

Marta Irene Litter, Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica - CONICET

Prof. Dr. Marta Litter has a PhD in Chemistry (Buenos Aires University, Argentina), with postdoctoral studies at the University of Arizona, USA. She is Senior Researcher of the National Research Council (CONICET), Full Professor at the National University of General San Martín (UNSAM) and has been Head of the Division of Environmental Chemistry Remediation (National Atomic Energy Commission), all of this in Argentina. She has more than 200 scientific publications in international journals, books and book chapters. She was the International Coordinator of the Iberoarsen CYTED network. She received the Mercosur Prize in Science and Technology (2006 and 2011) and was President of the International Congress on Arsenic in the Environment (2014). She is an active member of the ‘Arsenic in water’ ad-hoc group of experts of the Food Safety Network of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Red de Seguridad Alimentaria, CONICET). She is considered a pioneer in photocatalysis in Argentina (2016) and has been accepted as a Member of TWAS (2018).

María Aurora Armienta Hernández, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Dr. María Aurora Armienta Hernández is a Research Professor at Geophysics Institute, Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico. She has a Bachelor in Chemical Engineering, a M.Sc. in Analytical Chemistry, and a PhD in Hydrology. Her research is focused on environmental geochemistry, hydrogeochemistry, medical geology and geochemical processes related to volcanic activity. She has identified contamination processes and sources of metals and metalloids in groundwater, rivers and soils in various regions in Mexico, and developed solutions to the pollution problem. She has published 118 international peer reviewed articles, 47 extended abstracts, and 30 book chapters. Dr. Armienta has supervised 12 PhD, 19 M.Sc., and 30 Bachelor theses. She has been awarded a Level III National Researcher (the highest level) by the National Science Council of Mexico. She was the Mexican coordinator of the Iberoarsen international network. In March 2013, she received the “Juana Ramírez de Asbaje” award in recognition of her academic achievements at the University of Mexico. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 she was one of the ten most cited UNAM researchers in Earth sciences. In 2015, Dr. Armienta received the Academic and Research career recognition by the Mexican Geohydrological Society, and in 2018 she was named Teacher of the Year in Earth Sciences by the Mexican Geophysical Union. 

Ruth Esther Villanueva-Estrada, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Dr. Ruth Esther Villanueva-Estrada graduated as Chemist at the School of Chemistry, at the Autonomous National University of México (UNAM) (1996), where she later on obtained a Master’s degree in Chemical Oceanography (2001) and a Doctorate in Geochemistry (2007). She is a staff member of the Geophysics Institute, Group of Dangers and Risks by Natural Phenomena (UNAM). She has published 23 articles in high-impact indexed journals, 3 book chapters, 10 extensive abstracts with arbitration and 7 technical reports. Currently, she is Head of Laboratory at the Geothermal Fluids Geochemistry, Geophysics Institute (UNAM-Michoacán Unit). Her research focuses on studies on A) renewable energy resources geochemistry, B) aqueous environmental geochemistry, and C) geochemical modeling of water-rock interaction.

Edda C. Villaamil Lepori, Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)

Prof. Dr. Villaamil Lepori has obtained a doctorate at the University of Buenos Aires, Toxicology Area (2000). She is Consulting Professor at the University of Buenos Aires, and Honorary Active Partner and Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Argentina. She is the author of 71 articles published in specialized journals, 6 book chapters, and 314 papers presented at scientific meetings. On 77 occasions, she was a speaker at national and international meetings, and she has received 18 awards and distinctions. She is an experienced human resources trainer – she has directed research groups, doctoral and postdoctoral students, residents, researchers from CONICET and UBA, and interns from national and foreign universities. Considering national subsidized research projects (FONCyT, FONTAR, CONICET, UBACyT, SECyT-MINCyT) she has directed 13 projects, co-directed 7 projects, participated as a researcher in 17 projects, and has coordinated 3 international projects in the region (AECI) related to the topic of Arsenic. She acts in the area of Toxicology, with emphasis on Toxicology of Persistent Pollutants, Environmental Toxicology and Occupational Toxicology. In her professional activities she has interacted with 129 collaborators in co-authorships of scientific works.

Valentina Olmos, Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)

Dr. Valentina Olmos has obtained a Doctorate in Pharmacy and Biochemistry at the University of Buenos Aires (2016). She is Researcher and Professor Teaching Assistant at the School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, University of Buenos Aires. Her research is focused on arsenic exposure assessment and arsenic health risk assessment. She is an Emeritus member of the Argentine Society of Toxicology (Asociación Toxicológica Argentina) and a full member of the Society of Toxicology (SOT, USA). She is review editor at Acta Toxicológica Argentina Journal since 2006. She is an active member of the ‘Arsenic in water’ ad-hoc group of experts of the Food Safety Network of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Red de Seguridad Alimentaria, CONICET). She authored 33 scientific publications in national and international scientific journals. She authored more than 50 presentations to national and international scientific meetings.