Arup K. SenGupta recently received the 2009 Astellas USA Foundation Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for developing an innovative filtration system that removes arsenic from groundwater.
ACS, with more than 160,000 members, is the world’s largest scientific society. SenGupta, the P.C. Rossin Professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and also in the department of chemical engineering, is the first engineer to receive the Astellas Award.
SenGupta accepted the award in August at ACS’ 240th national meeting in Boston, where he delivered the Astellas Foundation lecture, titled “Global Arsenic Crisis in Drinking Water: New Findings for a Sustainable Solution.”
ACS cited SenGupta for inventing the first polymer-based, reusable, arsenic-selective adsorbent and for developing a scientifically sound method of disposing arsenic-containing sludge in developing countries without using landfills or hazardous waste sites.
The Astellas Award is given to individuals or teams who conduct research in the chemical and related sciences and who make a significant contribution to public health. It includes a plaque and $30,000. SenGupta donated the money to the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Lehigh alumni and engineers to solve water-related problems in developing countries.
Tackling a “mass poisoning” with nanoparticles
In countries in South and Southeast Asia, nearly 200 million people drink water contaminated with toxic levels of arsenic. Victims of arsenic poisoning suffer skin lesions, cancer and even death. The World Health Organization calls the phenomenon the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”
The filtration unit that SenGupta and his research group designed uses tiny, polymeric ion-exchange beads impregnated with ferric hydroxide nanoparticles to attract and remove arsenic from water. The systems are operated with a hand pump and require no electric power or chemicals.
The team has developed and implemented a method for safely containing the removed arsenic by converting it to a low-volume solid waste and storing it in coarse sand filters that have minimum leaching potential. This eliminates the need for landfills or hazardous waste sites.
In villages where the system has been installed, arsenic levels in well water have fallen from 100 to 500 parts per billion to less than 10 ppb. Victims have found relief from symptoms and new cases of arsenic poisoning have plummeted. In addition to its humanitarian applications, the patented technology is used commercially in more than 300 installations in nine U.S. states and in Hungary, India, Brazil and Ecuador.
This is not the first time SenGupta’s work has received attention. In 2007, his team received the Silver Award in the National Academy of Engineering’s Grainger Challenge for Sustainability and a $75,000 award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) competition.
The American Society of Civil Engineers cited SenGupta’s work with arsenic as one of the five Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement projects in 2008. In 2009, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
SenGupta was nominated for the Astellas Award by Ned Heindel, professor of chemistry and ACS president in 1994.
Also at the ACS national conference in Boston, Sudipta Sarkar, a research engineer in environmental engineering, presented a paper that was titled “Transforming the Arsenic Crisis into an Economic Enterprise: Example from an Indian Village” and coauthored with SenGupta.