Journal of Environmental Protection, 2014, 5, 54-59
Published Online January 2014 (
Assessment of Groundwater Pollution with Heavy Metals
in North West Bank/Palestine by ICP-MS
Husam Malassa1,2, Mohamad Hadidou n3, Mahmoud Al-Khatib4, Fuad Al-Rimawi4,
Mutaz Al-Quto b 1,2*
1Departmen t o f Earth an d En vironmental st ud ies, Facult y of Science an d Techno logy, Al-Qud s Universit y, East Jerusale m, Palest ine;
2Aquatic and Aquaculture Research Laboratory, Al-Quds University, East Jerusalem, Palestine; 3Palestinian Water Authority, Ra-
mallah, Palestine; 4Faculty of Science and Tech nology, Al-Quds University, East Jer usalem, Pal es tine.
Email: *
Received November 21st , 2013; revised December 18th, 2013; accepted January 6th, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Hu sam Malassa et al . This is an open access articl e distribu ted under the Creative Co mmons Attribu tion License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. In accor-
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Groundwater of North West Bank in Palestine was assessed for pollution with trace metals by ICP/MS. The
samples were analysed for their pH, electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids, and different trace metals con-
tent. The pH, electrical conductivity, and total dissolved solids of all water samples were found to be within the
US Environmental protection Agency limits. Results showed that the concentration of nine trace metals (Cr, Mn,
Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Pb, Cd, and Al) is within the WHO limits in drinking water (50, 500, 20, 2000, 3000, 70, 10, 3,
and 200 ug/L, respectively), however six metals of them (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Mo, and Al) were detected in 100% of
the samples, while Pb, Cd, and Zn were detected in 80%, 60%, and 20% of the samples, respectively. On the
other ha nd, Tl which is a very toxic heavy metal with allowed WHO limits of 0.01 - 1 ug/ L is detected in 100% of
the water samples analysed with a range of 0.02 - 0.12 ug/L. It indicates that such concentration levels of Tl
would be har mful to the human be ing drin king the water. In general, 82% of all samples analysed contained one
or more of the 12 metals studied each in varying concentration. Results of this study suggest a possible risk to the
people of the study area given the toxicity of heavy metals, and the fact that for many people in the study area,
groundwate r is a main sourc e of their w ater supply.
Heavy Metals; Ground Water; Palestine; Pollution; ICP-MS
1. Introduction
Heavy metals in groundwater are toxic even at low con-
centrations [1-3]. Human activities have increased the
concentrations of heavy metals in the environment. For
example, industry, agriculture, and solid waste disposal
increase the contents of heavy metals in water, soil, air,
fruits, vegetable s, fish, etc. [4-6].
There are 35 metals that concern us because of occu-
pational or residential exposure, of which 23 are heavy
metals: antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, cerium,
chromium, cobalt, copper, gallium, gold, iron, lead,
manganese, mercury, nickel, platinum, silver, tellurium,
thalli um, ti n, urani um, va nadium, and zinc [7]. Although
small amounts of these are common in our environment
and diet and some are necessary for good health, large
amounts of any of the m may cause ac ute or chronic tox-
Health risks of heavy metals include reduced growth
and d evelop ment, cancer, organ d amage, nervous syste m
damage, and in extreme cases, death. Exposure to some
metals, such as mercury and lead, may also lead to
autoimmunity. Heavy metals become toxic when they are
not metabolized by the body and accumulate in the soft
tissues. As noted above, heavy metals may enter the hu-
man body via food, water, air, or absorption through the
skin in agriculture, industrial, or residential setting s [ 8,9].
*Corresponding author.
Assessment of Groundwater Pollution with Heavy Metals in North West Bank/Palestine by ICP-MS
Many studies have investigated the occurrence and
monitoring of heavy metals in groundwater and drinki ng
water. Momodu and Anyakora [1] have assessed ground-
water contamination with heavy metals (Pb, and Cd) and
Aluminum in Nigeria. The results show that there is a
significa nt risk for the population from drinking ground-
water; Pb and Cd were detected in 98% of water samples
analysed in that study. Laniyan et al. [10] as well as
Oyeku and Eludoyin [11] also investigated the occur-
rence of heavy metals in ground water in Nigeria. Momot
and Synzynys [12] have investigated toxic aluminium
and heavy metals in groundwater of middle Russia and
have detected some heavy metals (Hg, Cr, and As) there.
Batayneh [4] has studied heavy metal content in water
springs of the Yarmouk Basin (Jordan) and has shown
that the Basin is contaminated with heavy metals that
might affect human health as well as the health of the
ecosystem. Iqbal and Gupta [13] and Rajappa [14] have
studied the heavy metal pollution of ground wa ter in India,
and have detected some heavy metals in groundwater
samples. Gutierrez et al. [15] have studied the occurrence
of heavy metals in water of San Petro River in Mexico
and have found that the San Pedro River is contaminated
with heavy metals and other contaminants that might
affect human health as well as the health of the ecosys-
te m. K a r et al. [1 6] have stud ied the a sse ssme nt o f hea v y
metals pollution in the surface water of the River Ganges
in West Bengal. The results show that the dominance of
various heavy metals in those waters followed the se-
quence: Fe > Mn > Ni > Cr > Pb > Zn > Cu > Cd. Voica
et al. [17] have determined different heavy metals in
surface water from Transylvania/Romania. The results
showed that toxic heavy metals were detected in water
samples in the range of few ug/L. Ismail and Mat Saleh
[18] have analysed different heavy metals in water sam-
ples from Malaysia. Their results showed that the con-
centrations of heavy metals in water samples were belo w
the detection limit. It is obvious from this literature that
studies on the occurrence and determination of heavy
metals in water (ground, drinking, surface etc) is an im-
portant issue for the human health and for the environ-
ment. In Palestine, the principal water resources available
include groundwater, springs, and harvested rainwater
[19]. However, there are few studies in Palestine that
dealt with pollution of groundwater with different pollu-
tants e.g. pesticides, nitrates, chlorides, heavy metals. A
study by Ghanem and Samhan [20] has focused on the
asses sment o f poll ution o f gro undwate r in T ulkare m area
with nitrate a nd chloride. Their results had indicated that
there are many samples with nitrate concentrations ex-
ceeding the WHO standards of 45 mg/L for drinking
water. Ghanem et al. [21] have also investigated the
groundwater pollution due to pesticides and heavy metals
in North West Bank. The results show that Pb, Cd, and
Cr were detected in the groundwater of North W est B ank.
The concentr ation of P b was found higher t hat the WHO
limit. El-Nahhal [22] has studied the contamination of
ground wat er wit h heav y metal s in Gaza Strip . T he results
showed that the concentration of Cd, Pb, Fe, and Cr are
above the EP A li mits in some well s.
The objectives of the current study are to study the
occurrence of different trace metals (Tl, Pb, Cr, Mn, Co,
Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Ag, and Cd) and Al in groundwater of
North West Bank in order to assess its pollution with
metals, as groundwater in the study area is used for
2. Experimental
2.1. Study Area
2.1.1. Cl ima te
The climate in the West Bank can be characterized as hot
and dry during the summer and cool and wet in winter
[19]. The climate becomes more arid to the east and
south. Evaporation is high in summer when there is al-
ways a water deficit. The average annual rainfall in the
central highlands is 700 mm and becomes less than 100
mm near the Dead Sea. However, great variations in
rainfall a mount s and distribution exist [1 9].
2.1.2. Groundwate r : Aquifers a nd We lls
The principal water resources available to Palestinians
include groundwater, springs, and harvested rainwater
[20]. Both groundwater and surface water drain either
westwards to the Mediterranean or eastwards to the Jor-
dan River and Dead Sea. The lower Jordan River flows
southwards at the eastern edge of the West Bank from
Lake Tiberias to the Dead Sea [23]. The West Bank lies
over the Mountain aquifer. The Mountain aquifer is di-
vided into the eastern aquifer, the north eastern aquifer,
and the western aquifer. The eastern aquifer and part of
the north eastern aquifer flow east towards the Jordan
River. The western aquifer and part of the north eastern
aquifer flow westerly towards the Mediterranean Sea [24,
2.1.3. Geography and Geology
North of West Bank including Nablus and Jenin have a
highly varying topography and altitude, with the highest
point at 940 m above sea level and the lowest at 150 m
above sea level for Nablus. The same goes for Jenin that
has a peak height of 750 m above sea level while the
lowest level is at 90 m above sea level. In terms of geol-
ogy, the majority of the Nablus and Jenin area is rocky
mainly comprised of carbonate sediment such as limes-
tone, carbonate, chalk and marl. The geological rock age
formations range from Cretaceous to Eocene [19].
2.2. Sampling and Analysis
Five groundwater wells which are used for drinking were
Assessment of Groundwater Pollution with Heavy Metals in North West Bank/Palestine by ICP-MS
selected as representative wells of the study area. Figure
1 shows location of the wells in the study area that were
analysed in this study. Three samples were obtained from
each well at different times. A total of 15 water samples
were collected from the five wells. The water samples
were collected in 1-liter high densit y polyeth ylene b ottles
(pre-cleaned with 10% nitric acid followed by repeated
rinsing with bi-distilled water). The collected samples
have been stabilized with ultrapure nitric acid (0.5%
HNO3), preserved in a cool place (about 4˚C) and trans-
ported to the lab of Al-Quds Unive rsit y for fur ther a nal y-
sis. pH, electr ical conductivity, and total d issolved solids
were measured in the lab immed iately after the arr ival of
the samples according to standard methods [26]. The
samples were then analysed for the following metals (Tl,
Pb, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Ag, Cd, and Al) which
are dissolved in water by ICP/MS (Agilent technologies
7500 series).
For accurate quantitative determination of heavy met-
als in water samples, an internal standard method was
used using Nd as internal standard and a multi-standard
calibration method: (22 metals standard (Ag 10 mg/L, Al
50 mg/L, B 50 mg/L, Ba 10 mg/L, Bi 100 mg/L, Ca 10
mg/L, Cd 10 mg/L, Co 10 mg/L, Cr 50 mg/L, Cu 10
mg/L, Fe 10 mg/L, K 100 mg/L, Li 50 mg/L, Mg 10
mg/L, Mn 10 mg/L, Mo 50 mg/L, Na 50 mg/L, Ni 50
mg/L, Pb 100 mg/L, Sr 10 mg/L, Tl 50 mg/L, Zn 10
mg/L, matrix 5% HNO3). Samples were prepared by di-
lution of 1.0 mL of the water samples to 10.0 mL with
0.3% ultrap ure nitric acid and analysed by ICP/MS. Each
sample was analysed three times and the results are ex-
pressed as mean ± SD (SD: standard deviation). Relative
standard deviation (RSD) of the three results are calcu-
lated and found to b e less than 5% for all sa mples for all
metals analysed in this study, reflecting the precision of
Figure 1. Map of West Bank and the study area showing
location of the gro und w ells an aly zed i n this st udy (Ara bba,
Jaba, Al Badhan, Ruje e b, and Met ha lon).
the method for the analysis of these heavy metals. Cali-
bration curves for all metals analysed were constructed
by plotting the ratio o f the int ensity of the analyse metal
to that of the internal standard (Nd) vs. concentration of
the trace metal (in ug/L), and results showed that the ca-
libration curves are linear with cor relation co efficient (r2)
greater than 0.999 for the trace metals analysed.
3. Results and Discussion
This study was conducted to investigate the quality of
groundwater which is domestic wells used for drinking in
the study area. The people of the study area depend
mainly on the groundwater and on the rain water har-
vested and stored in cisterns or wells. The pH of all water
samples ranged between 6.9 - 7.8 which is within the
allowed WHO limit (6.5 - 8.5). Electrical conductivity
and total dissolved solids of all water samples ranged
from 394 - 1432 µS/cm, and 225.0 - 816.0 mg/L respec-
tively. The limit for total dissolved solids in drinking
water according to WHO is 1000 mg/L [27], where our
results sho wed that all water s amples are withi n this lim-
3.1. Heavy Metals Conte nt
Results showed that eleven heavy metals (Tl, Pb, Cr, Mn,
concentratio n of Tl, Pb, Al, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo,
Ag, and Cd), and Al were detected in one or more water
sample analysed in this study. The concentration of Tl,
Pb, Al, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Ag, and Cd in the
five wells analysed in this study were ranged from: 0.02 -
0.12, 0.0 - 1.35, 0.28 - 30.11, 0.07 - 1.77, 0.02 - 8.96,
0.03 - 0.06, 0.13 - 4.62, 0.52 - 16.11, 0.0 - 16.36, 0.38 -
8.75, 0.0 - 0.03, and 0.0 - 0.04 ug/L, respectively, see
Table 1. Results showed that the concentration of nine-
trace metals (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Pb, Cd, and Al) is
within the allowed WHO limits in drinking water (50,
500, 20, 2000, 3000, 70, 10, 3, and 200 ug/L, respective-
ly), however six metals of them (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Mo,
and Al) were detected in 100% of the samples, while Pb,
Cd, and Zn were detected in 80%, 60%, and 20% of the
samples, respectively. In general, 82% of all samples
analysed contained one or more of the 12 metals studied
each in varying concentrat i on.
There is no limit for Ag in dr inking water acco rding to
WHO, however it is usually found in drinking water in
the range of 5 - 50 ug/L. Our results showed that all
samples are within this limit. Co has also no limits in
drinking water by WHO. Howe ver, this metal was de-
tected in 100% of the water samples analysed in this
study. Thallium (Tl) is a highly toxic element that hu-
mans are exposed to mainly by consumption of drinking
water and vegetables grown in soil with high thallium
content but also throu gh inhalation of par ticles in the air.
Assessment of Groundwater Pollution with Heavy Metals in North West Bank/Palestine by ICP-MS
Table 1. Trace metals concentrations which are detected in the groundwater samples analyzed in this study (minimum,
maxi mum, ave rage, stan dard deviation (SD), and relative standard deviation (RSD)), as well as their WHO limits, and % of
the samples that found to contain p articular hea v y metal.
Heavy meta l concentrati on (ppb)
Bi Pb Cd Ag Mo Zn Cu Ni Co Mn Cr
1.33 12.94 0.0 0.0 0.0 22.19 21.93 9.15 0.34 4.56 22.6 Minimum
96.52 486.4 2.19 149.7 6.17 302.98 925.5 87.28 4.93 552.3 165.5 Maximum
32.8 45.8 1.17 39.7 11 .3 111.8 143.6 26.7 3.16 11 2.6 56.1 Average
14.1 14.3 0.8 13.7 3.6 29.7 36.3 4.1 1.5 11 .8 6.1 SD
43.0 31.2 68.3 34.5 31.9 26.6 25.2 15.4 47.5 10.5 10.9 RSD (%)
100 100 38 18 37 100 100 100 100 100 100
% of samp les that
found to contain that
hea v y metal
10 3 No limits* 70 3000 2000 20 No limits 500 50 Limits
100 0
4.5 (exceeded
50 ppb)
0 0 0 34 / 4.5 59
% of samp les that
exce eded the li mit
*usually found in con ce ntration of 5 - 50 ppb.
Thallium is also present in fossil fuels, alloys, and in
electronic utilitie s. The increasing use of the element and
emissions from notably energy production has lead to a
higher load on the surface of the Earth. The allowed
WHO limits of T l in water is 0 .01 - 1 ug/L (IPCS, 1996).
Our results showed that Tl is detected in 100% of the
water samples analysed with a range of 0.02 - 0.12 ug/L,
which indicates t hat such concentra tion level of T l would
be harmful to human being consuming this groundwater.
A one way ANOVA statistical test was used to test if
the concentration of the analysed metals is significantly
different between the five groundwater wells. Results
sho wed t hat t he five wells i n t his st udy are d i ffer e nt fr om
each other at 95% confidence level in terms of trace met-
al content. These findings confirm locational variations
of the metals in t he wells analysed in this study.
3.2. Sources of Heavy Metals in the
Groundwater Samples
Heavy metals exist in water in colloidal, particulate and
dissolved phases [28] with their occurrence in water bo-
dies being either of natural origin (e.g. eroded minerals
within sediments, leaching of ore deposits and volcanism
extruded products) or of anthropogenic origin (i.e. solid
waste disposal, industrial or domestic effluents) [3]. The
most common metals that humans are exposed to are
Aluminium, Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury.
Aluminium has been associated with Alzheimer’s and
Parkinson’s disease, senility and presenile dementia. Ar-
senic exposure can cause among other illness or symp-
toms cancer, abdominal pain and skin lesions. Cadmium
exposure produces kidney damage and hypertension.
Lead is a commutative poison and a possible human car-
cinogen [ 29].
The quality of groundwater sources are affected by the
characteristics of the media through which the water
passes to the ground water zone of saturation [30], thus,
the heavy metals discharged by industries, traffic, mu-
nicipal wastes, hazardous waste sites as well as from
fertilizers for agricultural purposes and accidental oil
spillages from tankers can result in a steady rise in con-
tamination of ground water [31]. Additionally, ground-
water quality is influenced considerably by the quality of
the recharge source. Variations in natural and human
activities reflect spatial variations of the aquifer and the
hydro chemical parameters of the groundwater. Pollution
sources are classified as point sources and diffuse
sources. Point sources are sources that can be clearly
identified and pinpointed (such as landfill leachate). Dif-
fuse sources cannot be pinpointed and are distributed
over a large surface area (application of fertilizers and
pesticides in a gric ulture).
In Palestine, groundwater is one of the major sources
of water. Efficient management of this resource requires
a good understanding of its status. Groundwater man-
agement in the West bank is affected by the randomly
distributed dumping sites, solid waste landfills, cesspits,
especially in rural communities, as well as agricultural
and industrial practices. Accordingly, the shallow aquifer
in the eastern and western groundwater basins is deteri-
orated; high concentrations of nitrate and sulphate were
detected larger than the WHO standards. Microorganisms
were detected in some springs inside rural communities
in Ramallah area [20,21]. This could be reflected on the
water suppl y for the se co mmu nities for t he fac t tha t these
water sources are the major sources for drinking and
agricultural purposes [21].
Assessment of Groundwater Pollution with Heavy Metals in North West Bank/Palestine by ICP-MS
In West Bank and especially in rural areas, people d is-
pose their wastewater using cesspits which is one of the
main pollution sources to groundwater. Most of these
cesspits are emptied by vacuum tankers and disposed
into wadis or to improper dumping sites. These dump-
ing sites are located in agricultural lands and their sites
were selected randomly without any consideration to the
soil characteristics, topography and climate as well as
groundwater. As none of the existing dumping sites is
designed to collect leachate from solid waste degradation,
the leachate always finds its way through the soil to the
groundwater, increasing concentration of pollutants in-
cluding heav y metals to the water. In additio n to munici-
pal wastes and cesspits, urban, agricultural and indus-
trial activities in t he st ud y area may also co ntr ibute to the
contamination of the groundwater with heavy metals
[20,21]. Our recommendations are that uncontrolled dis-
posal of wastes and incineration of solid waste should be
banned and responsible authorities have to monitor and
control the quality of groundwater periodically (e.g.
heavy metals content) in West Bank as this water is used
for drinking especially in regions suffering from water
4. Conclusion
Groundwater from North West Bank contains eleven
heavy metals (Tl, Pb, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Mo, Ag,
and Cd) and one metal (Al) in 82% of samples analysed
from five wells, with nine trace metals (Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu,
Zn, Mo, P b, Cd, and Al) is withi n the allowed WH O li m-
its in drinking water. H owev e r, six metals of them (Cr,
Mn, Ni, Cu, Mo, and Al) were detected in 100% of the
samples. Although Co has no limit s in drinkin g water b y
WHO, this metal was detected in 100% of the water
samples analysed in this study. Thallium (Tl), a highly
toxic element with a WHO limit of 0.01 - 1 ug/L, is de-
tected in 100% of the water samples analysed with a
range of 0.02 - 0.12 ug/L. It indicates that such concen-
tration level of Tl would be harmful to the human being
consuming this groundwater. There are locational varia-
tions in the concentration of metals in the wells analysed
in this study.
The authors thank the German Research Foundation
(Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), DFG for their fi-
nancial support through TRIO N project.
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