Scientists have developed a simple, inexpensive solution to treat drinking water contaminated by arsenic, and the new technology could dramatically improve public health in developing countries where complex purification technologies are unavailable.
The process uses pieces of plastic water, soda pop and other beverage bottles. That’s important in places where solutions to the problem of arsenic contamination requires simple technology based on locally available materials.
Almost 100 million people in developing countries are exposed to dangerously high levels of arsenic in their drinking water and cannot afford expensive treatment technologies. To address this public health crisis, Tsanangurayi Tongesayi developed a simple and inexpensive process for arsenic removal. Dr. Tongesayi is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, Medical Technology and Physics at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
Tongesayi described the arsenic removal process in an August 31, 2011 press release:
Dealing with arsenic contamination of drinking water in the developing world requires simple technology based on locally available materials. Our process uses pieces of plastic water, soda pop and other beverage bottles. Coat the pieces with cysteine – that’s an amino acid found in dietary supplements and foods – and stir the plastic in arsenic-contaminated water. This works like a magnet. The cysteine binds up the arsenic. Remove the plastic and you have drinkable water.
Results from laboratory tests look promising – the “plastic bottle” filters were able to reduce arsenic concentrations from 20 micrograms per liter to just 0.2 micrograms per liter, which is well within public health guidelines. These data were presented at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that was held in Denver, Colorado on August 28 to September 1, 2011.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is present in Earth’s crust and it can seep into drinking water through the erosion of natural deposits. Arsenic contamination is particularly problematic in regions such as south and southeast Asia where soil and rocks are heavily laden with arsenic.
When ingested in high concentrations, arsenic can cause skin discoloration and elevate a person’s risk for developing skin and bladder cancer. The World Health Organization recommends that concentrations of arsenic in drinking water not exceed 10 micrograms per liter.
Tongesayi is currently seeking partners to help move the arsenic removal process out of the laboratory and into widespread production and use.
Bottom line: Tsanangurayi Tongesayi from Monmouth University has developed a simple and inexpensive process to remove arsenic from drinking water and he hopes that new technology will help to dramatically improve public health in developing countries where complex purification technologies are unavailable. The process uses pieces of plastic water, soda pop and other beverage bottles – simple technology based on locally available materials.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.