Mar 07, 2011

Queen’s University Scientists Develop Arsenic Removal Technology

System first used in Asia is now being introduced in U.S.

Pioneering technology by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, which is transforming the lives of millions of people in Asia, is now being used to create safer drinking water in the United States.

The award-winning system, Subterranean Arsenic Removal (SAR), removes arsenic from groundwater without using chemicals. It was developed by a team of European and Indian engineers led by Dr. Bhaskar Sen Gupta of the Queen’s University School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering.

The technology, based on the principle of oxidation and filtration processes, is already in use in six plants in West Bengal, India.

The technology now has been successfully tested in the United States, in a rural community outside Bellingham, in Northwest Washington State, where high levels of arsenic in the water had previously caused challenges for local residents.

“We first read about the SAR technology on Wikipedia. Initially, it seemed too good to be true,” said Jeremy Robinson, a member of the Washington State installation team. “Arsenic is a significant problem for many of the wells in our area. None of the conventional approaches for arsenic treatment have worked well for us. But, once we recognized the advantages and elegance of the SAR approach, we started preparing to test it here.

"With the generous help offered to us by Dr. Sen Gupta and Queen’s University, we are now underway. Our early results have been very promising. We started the trial in January, on an abandoned well with alarmingly high arsenic levels. After three weeks, the arsenic level had dropped substantially. And now, after seven weeks, we are seeing arsenic levels at or below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit."

The technology already has attracted interest from other parts of the United States, and plans are now advanced for SAR plants to be set up in Cambodia, Vietnam and Mexico in the next six months.

The work of Sen Gupta’s team has won accolades from around the world. In November, Queen’s University was awarded the prestigious Times Higher Education Outstanding Engineering Research Team of the Year title.

Sen Gupta also was awarded the St. Andrews Prize for the Environment and the World Bank Innovation Fair Championship in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010.