March 31, 2014 – One in every five adult deaths in Bangladesh is attributed to arsenic poisoning. That’s because naturally-occurring arsenic is in the country’s water supply as it also is in the province of West Bengal in India. The arsenic levels can exceed 1,000 parts per billion in some cases. That’s 100 times the maximum safety limit set by the World Health Organization.
Tackling the challenge is a team of researchers form the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The result is Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR), an inexpensive solution (a prototype seen below) that runs an electrical current through a 600 liter container fitted with steel plates. The current causes the steel to rust which attracts the arsenic. The rust sinks to the bottom of the container where it is filtered out leaving an orange arsenic laden sludge. The water, now arsenic free is pumped out and used for drinking.
An Indian company, Luminous Water Technologies, has licensed the technology from UC Berkeley and will deliver it to villages throughout Bangladesh and India. Currently the sludge byproduct has no commercial value and has to be disposed of safely. But the UC Berkeley researchers are working with cement and concrete manufacturers to devise a way to embed it into building materials.
The picture below shows the advancements that have been made in commercializing the technology. The picture is of the 600 liter ECAR in operation. This technology has already undergone its first field trial at a rural high school in West Bengal. A one-year trial is the next stage in the rollout and will allow a local population in a village in either West Bengal or Bangladesh to operate and manage an ECAR. Luminous’ role will be to deliver and set up the technology and provide maintenance as needed. The company will have no hand in daily operations. If successful this ECAR business model will be rolled out across the globe to the locations where 100 million today are exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in drinking water.