We’re Sensing a Change in Water Monitoring: Introducing the Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition

By Lauren McAllister

Interested in helping protect our nation’s drinking water? EPA and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) are joining forces to launch the Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition for the development of new technology to detect arsenic in water.

info graphic about arsenic in drinking waterThe Safe Drinking Water Act requires that public water systems monitor regulated contaminants in drinking water to ensure public safety. Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, is one of the many drinking water contaminants actively monitored by drinking water systems because it can result in adverse health conditions, including an increased risk for a range of cancers. Measuring and testing for arsenic requires expensive instruments and lab work, as well as time. However, with new and emerging technologies, a more efficient arsenic monitoring technology could help to improve the monitoring system, reduce costs, and better protect human health and the environment.

Typically, samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis, with results available days to weeks later. New technology could accelerate this process by allowing for immediate detection of arsenic in water. This could reduce monitoring costs and help water utilities more effectively control treatment to remove arsenic from the drinking water supply.

The Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition aims to improve the existing process with upcoming and emerging technology.  The competition is not exclusively restricted to sensor developers, but seeks applicants from all fields. Applicant criteria includes anyone with ideas for how to rapidly, accurately, and cost-effectively measure arsenic in water.

The first phase of the Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition is scheduled to be launched in fall 2016. Entries will be judged and cash prizes will be awarded to winners. If you are interested in receiving notifications about the Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition, email PRIZE@usbr.gov with “Arsenic Sensor Prize Competition” in the subject line to join the email list. The official prize competition announcement will be posted on Challenge.gov.

About the Author: Lauren McAllister is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the Innovation Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Local Water Woes, No More? Advancing Safe Drinking Water Technology

By Ryann A. Williams

P3 Team shows their water filter

The SimpleWater company got their start as an EPA P3 team.

As a child growing up in Washington, D.C. I remember hearing adults talk about their concerns about the local tap water. Overheard conversations about lead content and murkiness in the water certainly got my attention. As an adult who now works at the Environmental Protection Agency, I know things have greatly improved.

Today, DC tap water is among the least of my concerns. I drink it every day. Frequent testing to confirm its safety and public awareness campaigns by DC Water (the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) have put my own worries to rest. But in other parts of the world and even in some areas of the U.S., people still have a reason to worry about their drinking water: arsenic.

Globally, millions of people are exposed to arsenic via drinking water and can suffer serious adverse health effects from prolonged exposure.

This is especially true in Bangladesh where it is considered a public health emergency. Other countries where drinking water can contain unsafe levels of arsenic include Argentina, Chile, Mexico, China, Hungary, Cambodia, Vietnam, and West Bengal (India). In addition, parts of the U.S. served by private wells or small drinking water systems also face risks due to arsenic in their drinking water.

Remedies are expensive and both energy- and chemical-intensive.

In 2007, a student team from the University of California, Berkeley won an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award for their research project aiming to help change that.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

Explaining the arsenic removal project.

The students set out to test a cost-effective, self-cleaning, and sustainable arsenic-removal technology that employs a simple electric current. The current charges iron particles that attract and hold on to arsenic, and are then removed by filter or settle out of the water.

By the end of their P3 funding in 2010, promising results had allowed the team to extend their field testing to Cambodia and India, and move forward with the licensing and marketing of their product to interested companies in Bangladesh and India.

Today, the same group of former Berkeley students who formed the P3 team now own a company called SimpleWater.

SimpleWater is among 21 companies that recently received a Phase One contract from EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program.

SimpleWater aims to commercialize their product and bring their track record of success in Bangladesh and India to help Americans who may be at risk from arsenic exposure in their drinking water. In particular they’re focusing on those who live in arsenic-prone areas and whose drinking water is served by private wells or small community water systems that test positive for elevated arsenic levels. (Learn more about Arsenic in Drinking Water and what to do if you think testing is needed for your water.)

Thanks to EPA support, SimpleWater is working to reduce the threat of arsenic in small drinking water systems and private wells. With their help, millions of people may soon feel safer about their drinking water, and like me, have one less big thing to worry about.

About the Author: Ryann Williams is a student services contractor with the communications team at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. When she’s not working with the team, she enjoys other team activities like soccer and football.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.