US Institute proposes solution to Bangladesh arsenic contamination

The Center for Environmental Studies at Stevens Institute of Technology has submitted a proposal to the Bangladesh government to institute a series of individual self-contained and cost effective filtration systems to combat the country’s severe arsenic contamination of well water.

The proposal, which is currently being evaluated by the Bangladesh government, showed that the arsenic concentration in drinking water was reduced from 600 micrograms per litre to less than 50 grams per litre when used in trials in the country. The system is estimated to cost only five dollars per family.

As many as 30 million people in Bangladesh are believed to be affected by the contamination which occurs naturally as a result of geologic conditions in the country. Of that amount, 12 million people are considered to be severely affected. Water wells in more than half of Bangladesh’s 64 districts are estimated to be contaminated.

“This process is one of the best we have seen and is certainly the most appropriate and effective method given the challenges being faced in Bangladesh,” said Dr. Rash Ghosh, executive director of the International Symposia on Reducing the Impact of Toxic Chemicals in Asian and Developing Countries. “The process is extremely simple and affordable for the population and shows extreme promise for alleviating the potentially deadly contamination being dealt with in Bangladesh.”

Dr. Xiaoguang Meng and Dr. George P. Korfiatis, both of Stevens Institute, developed the direct co-precipitation process after four years of research. It involves the adding of inexpensive and readily available chemicals to well water, mixing and straining the water through a sand filter.

In March, Dr. Meng field tested the system in Bangladesh on the invitation of Dr. Ghosh and observed a dramatic reduction in the contamination levels. In all but one case, the arsenic levels were reduced below what is considered acceptable levels for Bangladesh as well as the United States. The remaining test site could easily be brought within acceptable levels with the addition of more chemicals according to Dr. Meng.

According to Dr. Korfiatis the process is quite standard in terms of water treatment but has an enhanced value through the use of simple products that would be readily available to the Bangladesh citizens including 2 litre drinks bottles.

“Other methods being suggested rely on commercial products with substantial costs,” Dr. Meng added. “Such costs would make it impossible for the people of Bangladesh to benefit from the filter and would defeat the purpose.”

The proposal calls for a three-step immediate implementation plan beginning with a demonstration to 20 to 30 families over five months, followed by the construction of 2,000 units over a six to 12 month monitoring period, and finally full scale implementation conducted by the government.

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