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Science Wednesday: Searching for a Sustainable Way to Remove Arsenic from Groundwater

2010 March 17

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

Many people in Bangladesh use groundwater for their drinking water. In some parts of Bangladesh, arsenic levels in groundwater are more than 100 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 10 parts per billion. Already, 40,000 Bangladeshis are showing signs of arsenic poisoning. Without intervention, 10% of the deaths in this country of 140 million people could be caused by arsenic poisoning.

I am part of the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group (BAAG), a group aiming to provide affordable, sustainable technologies to remove arsenic from groundwater. Our goal is an efficient and cheap technology that removes arsenic and can be easily operated and maintained by local communities.

Our technology, partly funded by an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award research grant, takes advantage of the fact that arsenic binds to rust. We first put iron into water and then use electricity to corrode the iron and produce rust. Then by filtering the water, or allowing the rust to settle, we can remove the arsenic.

From an engineering standpoint, the design efficiently and sustainably removes arsenic from water . But we can’t just drop it off and leave.

First, we need to figure out if the technology will be affordable for local communities. Are there cultural barriers that might prevent its use? Can this new technology be easily adopted and used?

To develop a sustainable solution to real-world problems, we need an interdisciplinary approach with collaboration among engineers, social scientists, and most importantly local communities.

Because local communities are so important, we are proposing a community-scale clean water center. It will be operated by the local community, for the local community—selling clean water at an affordable price (~$0.02 per person per day). It means partnerships with local people, the key to the sustainability of our technology.

We are now collaborating with local universities, local village leaders, local communities, and local entrepreneurs. By operating a treatment center themselves, the community will be empowered, leading to more likely acceptance and sustainable operations.

100L Electrode AssemblyAbout the author: Case van Genuchten is a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and is a member of the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group (BAAG).

Editor’s Note: To meet researchers and see demonstrations of this and other exciting P3 projects, visit the National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, DC, April 24 and 25.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    March 17, 2010

    Since 1986, I have been living in ex paddy field, time by time renovation my home. You are right……, our main problem, here, is water. At that time the water are smelt and turbid, so difficult to take a bath, drank and washed. Now, rather good, but for drink, we are drinking mineral water. I am so glad to your mankind project in Bangladesh, and I hope, next, also the other countries…..

  2. Jim Luey permalink
    March 17, 2010

    This is really a well written article about a great project! There is a wealth of information available on arsenic, reflecting the complexity of engineering/treatment issues as well as the range of toxicology and human health protection concerns. This project post clearly describes the practical nature of this effort without bogging down in details; thanks for sharing!

  3. David Mc permalink
    March 22, 2010

    Learn the symptoms and get your water, water wells tested for arsenic if you can armansyahardanis.

  4. somulin permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Thanks for sharing such a nice information with us. i really like your information which you have provided.

  5. somulin permalink
    July 6, 2010

    Thanks for sharing Such a nice information with us.I really like your Information Which you have provided &this information is very useful.

  6. Jake permalink
    July 13, 2010

    I like the taste of Arsenic!

  7. John permalink
    August 23, 2010

    Jake, that is a very irresponsible statement to make. You don’t know who could be reading this and then go on to taste it

  8. cheap nfl jerseys permalink
    September 24, 2010

    Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. I’m happy I found this blog.(^_^)

  9. Danielle permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Affordability and availability of technology both are the most important factors that will dictate the pace and adoption of this to remove arsenic from water in areas where it is contaminated.

  10. abrenk permalink
    November 14, 2010

    This project post clearly describes the practical nature of this effort without bogging down in details; thanks for sharing!

  11. spanish translation services permalink
    November 16, 2010

    Making this technology not only affordable, but also easily available to local communities is a truly great objective. Working with the local people and getting them to understand ecology and the effects on their lives is an important part of our duties as ‘educated’ westerners to make the world a better place to live in. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work

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