Environmental science. Processes & impacts

Biovolatilisation: a poorly studied pathway of the arsenic biogeochemical cycle.

PMID 23824266


It has been known for over a hundred years that microorganisms can produce volatile arsenic (As) species, termed "arsines". However, this topic has received relatively little attention compared to As behaviour in soils and biotransformation through the trophic level in the marine and terrestrial environment. We believe this is due to long-standing misconceptions regarding volatile As stability and transport as well as an absence, until recently, of appropriate sampling methods. First and foremost, an attempt is made to unify arsines' designations, notations and formulas, taking into account all the different terms used in the literature. Then, the stability of As volatile species is discussed and new analytical developments are explored. Further, the special cases of diffuse low-level emissions (e.g. soil and sediment biovolatilisation), and point sources with high-level emissions (geothermal environments, landfills, and natural gas) are comprehensively reviewed. In each case, future possible areas of research and unknown mechanisms are identified and their importance towards the global As biogeochemical cycle is explored. This review gathers new information regarding mechanisms, stability, transport and sampling of the very elusive arsines and shows that more research should be conducted on this important process.