2008 OCEA Finalist


The Arsenic Crisis in the Indian Subcontinent:
Sustainable Engineering Solution, West Bengal, India

Arsenic RemovalArsenic poisoning afflicts nearly 100 million people living in Bangladesh and West Bengal, a neighboring Indian state, due to naturally occurring arsenic found in drinking water drawn from underground sources. The solution is easy-to-operate and culturally compatible arsenic removal units (ARUs). These arsenic removal units were designed to both remove arsenic from the groundwater—making it safe for human consumption—and provide for safe containment of the removed arsenic without long-term adverse ecological impact. More than 150,000 villagers are drinking and using arsenic-safe potable water from ARUs attached to ground well pumps, which do not require chemical additions, pH adjustments or electricity. Water is pumped into the unit—the same way water was pumped from the well prior to installation of the well-head unit—where it passes through beads of activated alumina that remove the arsenic.

Arsenic is the most toxic naturally occurring contaminant in groundwater. The ARU lowers the arsenic concentration from as high as 500 parts per billion to less than 50 parts per billion.

The operation of the units is compatible with the cultural traditions of the region. Only indigenous durable materials are used in constructing the ARUs. Many such units have been providing safe water for well over five years. Each unit is financed, maintained, and monitored by a villagers’ committee, and half of the committee members are women. The operation is self-sustaining and does not require outside assistance. The ARUs have also created employment opportunities for villagers.

The project is an outgrowth of a long partnership between Lehigh University and the Bengal Engineering and Science University and is partially financed by Water For People based in Denver.