Low cost arsenic remediation for Rural South Asia

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Project Lead
It has been an exciting year for the ECAR project. Since receiving funding from the Marin-San Francisco Jewish Teen Foundation in 2011, we have gone from having a 100L prototype to remove arsenic from drinking water to designing and fabricating a full 500L prototype in India that is set to ship out next week for a full pilot trial at a rural school. Funds raised by the MSF-JTF have had a critical role in purchasing the equipment for the prototype that will provide 1-2 liters of arsenic-safe drinking water for 2500 school children everyday. Two recent graduates (Christopher Orr of University of Toronto and Siva Rama Satyam Bandaru of the Indian Institute of Technology – Kharagpur) are in Mumbai right now conducting initial flow tests of the 500L unit before it will travel to Kolkata and then four hours North to the village of Amirabad for installation.
In May 2011, our team at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) had developed Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR) up to the point of successful field trials of a 100L prototype at a rural school in Amirabad Village. We continued to refine and test the 100L prototype, making initial designs for the next scale up, in Berkeley until November when two members of our team (Ashok Gadgil and Susan Addy) traveled to India. At the same time, a collaborating team, was developed at Jadavpur University (JU) in Kolkata led by Prof of Economics Joyashree Roy and Profs of Engineering Amit Dutta and Anupam DebSarkar, raised funds and worked with Indian students to replicate the 100L prototype in a local context at their own expense. When we all met in November, we were able to make several critical leaps forward: • The duplicate, locally built 100L prototype was sent to Amirabad High School to conduct a field trial and it performed just as well as the prototype built in Berkeley. The JU team has committed masters students to this project for the next three years and discussed a $1.5 million proposal to the Indian Dept of Science and Technology (equivalent to the NSF in the US) to create a center of excellence in arsenic remediation research at JU. • We met and spoke with the Amirabad High School headmaster and teachers for several hours, reaffirming their excitement and commitment to work with our project through 2015. Commitment from the school is absolutely necessary for the students to receive the benefits of the clean water system. • We met with various levels of Government Officials, all of whom reaffirmed their support for our project, including the Head of the Arsenic Task Force (Gov't of West Bengal), the four chief engineers and Principle Secretary responsible for arsenic remediation in West Bengal State (the Minister of the Public Health Engineering Dept was supportive in absentia), the District Magistrate (DM; head of Gov't of Murshidabad District) and Deputy Magistrate (second to the DM), the Sub-divisional Officer (the head of the sub-divisional gov't including Amirabad High School), and the Block Development Officer (head of the Block Gov't where Amirabad High School is located). • We formed an exciting alliance with the Rotary Club of Calcutta who is pitching our project to Rotary International. The secretary, Saumen Ray, is extremely enthusiastic about our project. The Rotary club has an important network of high level connections, particularly in the business world. • Numerous business representatives, including WaterHealth International, visited our field site and expressed how interested they are in our technology. They need to see the demonstration project before licensing, and are interested enough that they are helping us push the pilot project sooner (starting in June at a site closer to Kolkata) and are committed to working closely with our team in the coming year. • A manufacturer was identified for the 500L prototype. Shri Hari Industries, has agreed to manufacture the pilot prototype equipment and is also interested in manufacturing the final product if the pilot project goes well. • We were all interviewed for E-TV news, the main television station in West Bengal. This promotes the technology and engages support. • Our group was invited to attend an invitation-only International conference on arsenic. As one of only a handful of technology representatives among policy makers and government officials, this invitation is a sign of serious interest and support. In January 2012, we hired two recent graduates, Christopher Orr of University of Toronto and Siva Rama Satyam Bandaru of the Indian Institute of Technology – Kharagpur, to refine the design of the 500L prototype and oversee the fabrication, testing, and installation at Amirabad High School for the pilot project. Chris and Siva spent one month in Berkeley learning the technology and refining the design before heading to Mumbai (the location of the manufacturer) in late February. They have since built the 500L prototype in Mumbai where it is set to be flow tested in late April and shipped to JU in early May. Initial arsenic removal tests will occur at JU, following which the prototype will be shipped and installed in Amirabad High School.
Despite many successes, we have had a number of obstacles as well. The main obstacle has been being removed from the action in India while we are in Berkeley. When we are in India, things move very fast, and a great deal gets done. However, when we return to Berkeley, it is often difficult to make things happen in the field. We have persevered by making our trips to India more streamlined, and by sending two students to stay in India full time, whom we have regular communication with.
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