Breakthrough technology removes arsenic from groundwater

Sunday, April 06, 2014 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
Tags: arsenic, groundwater, breakthrough technology

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(NaturalNews) There's more to H2O than meets the eye. Life-threatening amounts of heavy metals like arsenic can go undetected in drinking water, ultimately destroying the health of entire communities. The most acute exposures are witnessed in countries like India and Bangladesh, where people show signs of arsenic poisoning, or arsenicosis. Arsenic poisoning can cause painful lesions, diabetes, cancer, blood vessel diseases and gangrene, forcing some to undergo amputation or be ostracized from their village.

Technology that removes arsenic from drinking water is often donated to villages in South Asia that drink from highly contaminated tube wells. Many of these reverse osmosis systems last less than six months and, on a grand scale, do not solve the problem, as thousands still suffer.

Breakthrough technology uses electricity and iron to remove arsenic from groundwater

A breakthrough in arsenic groundwater filtration from the University of California, Berkeley, could improve the lives of millions around the world.

"A lot of technologies to remove arsenic on the community- and household-scale have been donated. But if you go to these villages it's like a technology graveyard," said Professor Gadgil, who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division at UC Berkeley. "One study found that more than 90 percent failed within six months, and then were abandoned to rust in the field."

In understanding the problem, Gadgil and his team started work in 2005 on a project called ECAR, or Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation. ECAR uses electricity to rapidly dissolve iron in water, creating a rust that binds easily to arsenic. The arsenic-rust settles and is separated from the water through filtration. The new technology is not only effective but inexpensive and easy to maintain. The newest ECAR model can prepare 10,000 liters of arsenic-free water per day and operate effectively over a haul of 15 months.

Commercial partnerships between licensors and local villages will give the filtration systems staying power

Gadgil thought up an effective way to commercialize the technology, creating incentives for villages to use the technology long term. This will give the filtration systems staying power without privatizing or controlling the water supply.

Susan Amrose, who has worked on ECAR since 2008, said, "The key difference with ECAR is that it was designed to fit within a local system aimed at achieving successful social placement--so a flow of funds pays for ongoing operation, maintenance, and social marketing, without turning it into privatized water."

Amrose recalls one man in South Asia who lost his right pinkie finger by amputation due to arsenic: "In 2011 he lost his right hand, and in 2013 lost his entire arm. Earlier this year he committed suicide. In some areas, you'll see a lot of people with black spots on their palms, an external sign of arsenicosis. And a lot of things you won't see. People will be linked with arsenic and ostracized, or young people unable to marry because their family lives in an area that has arsenic."

Luminous Water Technologies to license ECAR and begin improving the lives of thousands in Bangladesh and India

The current ECAR system may take between 10 and 18 years to fully commercialize and bring mass appeal. The sustainable system works when licensors partner with local entities.

Luminous Water Technologies has already licensed ECAR and plans to deliver the technology to arsenic-ravaged villages throughout India and Bangladesh. As the licensor, Luminous Water Technologies would be responsible for operating and maintaining ECAR, while residents of the village own it as a micro-utility, selling clean water to the people.

Luminous Water Technologies Managing Director RS Rajan states, "Arsenic poisoning is an endemic problem in India and Bangladesh and is seen as a silent killer. It is Dr. Gadgil's conviction and perseverance which has been a key motivating factor in Luminous opting for this technology. Luminous Water, with its reach across India and longstanding business record, will work towards commercializing this technology along with Berkeley Lab and create a sustainable module to provide solutions to impacted communities."

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