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Bringing Clean Drinking Water to India

Photo of Arup K. SenGupta, John E. Greenleaf, Lee M. Blaney, Owen E. Boyd, Arun K. DebEPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) and People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) grantee Arup K. SenGupta recently received the Grainger Challenge Silver Award from the National Academy of Engineering.  Along with his team of four scientists, and the nonprofit organization Water For People exit EPA, SenGupta developed a system that is used at community wells to remove arsenic from drinking water.

The team created a unit to be used at community wells that serve up to 300 households or approximately 1000 villagers. The water is hand-pumped by villagers in existing wells into a down-flow fixed-bed column containing activated alumina or hybrid anion exchanger (HAIX) as the adsorbent for arsenic removal. Water collected from the bottom of the column is fit to drink. The systems have been installed in 160 villages throughout West Bengal, India, where villagers handle the upkeep and day-to-day operations. No electricity or chemical additions are needed. SenGupta’s team took on this challenge due to the extensive amount of arsenic poisoning on the Indian subcontinent. Their water treatment system provides safe, drinking water, while also containing the arsenic sludge in an environmentally safe manner. 

The team conducted its research at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where Dr. SenGupta is P.C. Rossin Senior Professor and a professor of chemical engineering and civil and environmental engineering.  SenGupta is the recipient of several STAR and P3 research grants from the EPA and also collaborated with a company, VEETech, P.C., on a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project.  Through this research, Dr. SenGupta worked to develop a treatment system for removing arsenic from drinking water that is easy to operate and affordable. SenGupta’s laboratory is credited with the development and commercialization of the first polymer-based arsenic selective adsorbent that is currently in use in over two hundred installations in USA.  SenGupta’s student team also just won a 2007 P3 Award from the EPA for their project that safely disposes of sludge that is high in arsenic.

The Grainger Challenge exit EPA is awarded by the National Academy of Engineering, with the support of the Grainger Foundation, in an effort to address the public health problem of drinking water containing 10 to 50 times the amount of arsenic considered safe. The prizes are $1,000,000, $200,000, and $100,000 for first, second and third place, respectively, for the design and creation of workable, sustainable, and economical water treatment systems in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and other developing countries. In April 2006, the most promising 15 competitors were invited to enter the testing phase of the competition.

Two other small businesses also funded by the EPA under the SBIR program were successful in the Grainger Challenge and were among the top 17 finalists invited to enter the testing phase of the competition.  HydroTech Engineering used their SBIR funding to develop uses of limestone-based materials for arsenic removal from drinking water. ADA Technologies, Inc. worked on the development of a point-of-use arsenic removal system.

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