To address the clean water crisis in his homeland of India, Professor Arup Sengupta has developed a simple and inexpensive well-head unit that removes arsenic from well water.
This device can help nearly 100 million people in eastern India and Bangladesh who risk skin ulcers, tumors and other debilitating and even fatal consequences of arsenic poisoning.
The crisis, says Sengupta, who grew up in West Bengal, India, is "the biggest natural calamity of our time." Like many environmental problems in developing countries, he says, it cries out for a homegrown solution.
Sengupta, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., has installed his unit in more than 100 village-drinking wells near the Indian cities of Howrah and Kolkata.
Arsenic levels in the filtered wells have plummeted from toxic rates of 100 to 500 parts per billion, Sengupta says, to well below the 50-ppb maximum permitted by the Indian government. Arsenicosis sufferers have found relief from their symptoms, and reports of new cases have plummeted.
Each of Sengupta's systems is built in India and installed by students and professors from Bengal Engineering College in Howrah for a cost of $1,200 to $1,500. The units are designed to last about 15 years, although the arsenic-removing materials must be regenerated once or twice a year, and the arsenic requires safe disposal.
Operating with a hand pump and needing no electric power or chemicals, the systems are maintained by villagers with help from Bengal Engineering College. Villagers are also trained to check wells weekly for arsenic levels.
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