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Bangladeshi scientists get prestigious award for arsenic filter


The prize winners are recognized for the development, in-field verification, and dissemination of effective techniques for reducing arsenic levels in water.  The systems must be affordable, reliable, easy to maintain, socially acceptable, and environmentally friendly.  All of the winning systems meet or exceed the local government guidelines for arsenic removal and require no electricity.

The prizes will be presented at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 2007.

Abul Hussam, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., will receive the Grainger Challenge Gold Award of $1 million for his SONO filter, a household water treatment system.

Arup K. SenGupta, John E. Greenleaf, Lee M. Blaney, Owen E. Boyd, Arun K. Deb, and the nonprofit organization Water For People will share the Grainger Challenge Silver Award of $200,000 for their community water treatment system.  SenGupta is P.C. Rossin Senior Professor and a professor of chemical engineering and of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.  Boyd is chief executive officer of SolmeteX Co. in Northborough, Mass.  Deb is a retired vice president of Roy F. Weston Inc. (now Weston Solutions Inc.) in West Chester, Pa.  Greenleaf is a Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering, and Blaney recently earned a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering; they performed laboratory research under SenGupta at Lehigh University.

The Children's Safe Drinking Water Program at Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G), Cincinnati, will receive the Grainger Challenge Bronze Award of $100,000 for the PUR™ Purifier of Water coagulation and flocculation water treatment system.  Greg Allgood, director of the Children's Safe Drinking Water Program, will accept the prize for P&G.

The Gold Award-winning SONO filter is a point-of-use method for removing arsenic from drinking water.  A top bucket is filled with locally available coarse river sand and a composite iron matrix (CIM).  The sand filters coarse particles and imparts mechanical stability, while the CIM removes inorganic arsenic.  The water then flows into a second bucket where it again filters through coarse river sand, then wood charcoal to remove organics, and finally through fine river sand and wet brick chips to remove fine particles and stabilize water flow.  The SONO filter is now manufactured and used in Bangladesh.

The system developed by the Silver Award-winning team is applied at a community's well head.  Each arsenic removal unit serves about 300 households.  Water is hand-pumped into a fixed-bed column, where it passes through activated alumina or hybrid anion exchanger (HAIX) to remove the arsenic.  After passing through a chamber of graded gravel to remove particulates, the water is ready to drink.  This system has been used in 160 locations in West Bengal, India.  The water treatment units, including the activated alumina sorbent, are being manufactured in India, and villagers are responsible for their upkeep and day-to-day operation.  The active media are regenerated for re-use, and arsenic-laden sludge is contained in an environmentally safe manner with minimum leaching.

The PUR™ purifier of water technology that won the Bronze Award combines chemicals for disinfection, coagulation, and flocculation in a sachet that can treat small batches of water in the home.  It is simple, portable, and treats water from any source.  First, the sachet contents are stirred into a 10 liter bucket of water for five minutes.  As the water rests for another five minutes, arsenic and other contaminants separate out.  The water is then poured through a clean cloth to filter out the contaminants.  After another 20 minutes to complete the disinfection process, the water is safe to drink.  As part of P&G's focal philanthropy program, the Children's Safe Water Drinking Program has worked with partners to provide 57 million sachets in more than 30 countries over the past three years, enough to purify more than 570 million liters of safe drinking water.  Each sachet is about the cost of an egg.


Arsenic contamination is prevalent in neighboring Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, where a quarter of the population drinks water from shallow tube wells — an inexpensive, low-tech way of accessing groundwater. Many of the estimated 10 million tube wells were built with international aid to provide an alternative to bacteria-tainted surface water. Unfortunately, these wells frequently tap into aquifers contaminated by arsenic. In the United States, most communities with arsenic-laden groundwater have installed expensive, centralized cleanup technologies. Different solutions are required for less developed parts of the world with limited resources.

Arsenic poisoning is a slow, painful process that can ultimately result in cancer and death. Debilitating sores appear first and are followed by nerve damage, often in the hands and legs, which are especially sensitive to arsenic. Affected people can have difficulty working or even walking, and continued exposure can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, and the amputation of arms or legs.

“The primary purpose of the Grainger prize is to accelerate the development and dissemination of technologies that enhance social and environmental sustainability for the benefit of current and future generations,” said NAE President Wm. A. Wulf. “The prize stimulates innovation, initiative, and marketing of good ideas. A complementary goal of the prize competition is to increase awareness within the U.S. engineering community of the importance of designing and engineering for sustainability, particularly in an international context, and to encourage and showcase efforts by U.S. engineers to bring sustainable technologies to the marketplace and to promote green design philosophies,” Wulf added.

The goal of this particular challenge was chosen with the assistance of an advisory panel expert in the area of sustainable development. The selection of the recipients was made by a committee of Academy members with expertise in water chemistry, manufacturing, environmental engineering, and public health. Charles R. O’Melia, NAE member and Abel Wolman Professor of Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, chaired the selection committee.

The Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability is made possible through the generous support of The Grainger Foundation. The prize was administered and managed by the National Academy of Engineering.

Source: National Academy of Engineering

Related Information

The Grainger Challenge

Related EVISA News

March 6, 2005: 1 Mio $ prize offered for a solution against arsenic in drinking water
June 14, 2005: Arsenic concentration in groundwater may be affected by bacteria
June 22, 2005: Arsenic desaster in Bangladesh man-made ?
July 29, 2005: Arsenic-free water still a pipedream

last time modified: June 23, 2020


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