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Arsenic researchers honored by engineering group in United Kingdom

Arup SenGupta

Lehigh and India’s Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU) recently received another international award for developing and installing a technology that is credited with providing arsenic-free drinking water to 200,000 people living in the villages of eastern India.

On Oct. 29, at a dinner in Birmingham, England, the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) presented the Dhirubhai Amabani Award to Arup K. SenGupta, the P.C. Rossin Professor of civil and environmental engineering and also of chemical engineering at Lehigh.

The award from the British organization recognized SenGupta and his colleagues and students at Lehigh and BESU for their ongoing “Sustainable Arsenic Remediation Project” in India.

The Amabani Award is given annually by IChemE to a project that applies chemical engineering principles to improve the lives of people making less than $2 a day. The award carries a plaque and a cash prize of $10,000.

India and neighboring Bangladesh are home to what the World Health Organization calls the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” WHO estimates that as many as 100 million people in the two countries drink groundwater containing toxic levels of arsenic.

Over the past 12 years, SenGupta’s group has installed more than 200 arsenic-removal units in the remote villages of eastern India bordering Bangladesh. The units are run and maintained by villagers. The project represents a partnership between Lehigh and BESU with assistance from Water For People in Denver, Colo.

In addition to installing the arsenic-removal units, SenGupta’s team has developed and implemented a method for safely containing the arsenic that is removed from groundwater. The arsenic is converted into a low-volume solid waste and stored in coarse sand filters that have minimum leaching potential. This eliminates the need for landfills or hazardous waste sites.

This containment process, says SenGupta, uses such fundamental chemical engineering principles as oxidation-reduction reaction, precipitation, adsorption-desorption, leaching and filtration. It does not require electricity or the external addition of chemicals.

SenGupta is the inventor of the patented Hybrid Anion Exchanger (HAIX), the first polymer-based, arsenic-selective, anion-exchanging product to be commercialized. Under the trade name of ArsenXnp, HAIX is at work in 300 installations in 12 American states and also in India, Hungary, Ecuador and Brazil, where it is used to remove arsenic from groundwater.

For their work with arsenic, SenGupta and his team in 2007 received the Silver Award in the National Academy of Engineering’s Grainger Challenge for Sustainability. That same year, SenGupta and his students won a $75,000 award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition for a project involving the safe disposal of sludge containing high levels of arsenic.

In 2008, the American Society of Civil Engineers cited SenGupta’s work with arsenic as one of the top five Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement projects.

SenGupta’s group plans to carry the fight against arsenic poisoning to the villages of Cambodia, whose groundwater is also adversely affected by high concentrations of arsenic.

The Dhirubhai Amabani Award is named for the late Indian entrepreneur and billionaire, who co-founded Reliance Industries in Mumbai.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Photo by Douglas Benedict

Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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