Life Saving Weed can Remove Arsenic from Water Supply
A weed has the potential to save thousands of lives, according to an article published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). A team led by Dr Parvez I Haris at De Montfort University, UK has identified an aquatic weed that can save lives by removing arsenic contamination from wells in Bangladesh.
The water hyacinth plant grows prolifically around the world, often clogging up waterways. The plant is called a "green plague", but Haris's report in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring (JEM) , published by the RSC, suggests that it may be a natural solution to a natural problem.
The introduction of tubewells in Bangladesh brought fresh water to the majority of the population, but the presence of naturally-occurring arsenic has contaminated the water supplies far in excess of the WHO guideline of 10 ppb (parts per billion). Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic can cause numerous diseases, including cancer. Millions of people are already suffering and more than 70 million people in the region are at risk.
Dr Haris and his team discovered that the powdered dried roots of the water hyacinth can rapidly remove arsenic from water, reducing the arsenic concentration to below the WHO guideline levels. He suggests a simple filtration system utilising the roots would be able to remove arsenic both from drinking and irrigation water.
Dr Haris was inspired to investigate the ability of the water hyacinth to absorb arsenic during a visit to Bangladesh: "Although I was aware of the problem my urge to do something intensified when I personally met victims of arsenic poisoning and witnessed their suffering. Many of these people are extremely poor, and it was obvious that an affordable and effective solution to the problem of arsenic in drinking water had to be found, ideally using materials that are locally abundant."
"I'm delighted with this discovery as a plant, regarded as a nuisance, has been turned into a life saving material that can help some of the poorest people in the world, not only in Bangladesh, but also in India, Mongolia, Mexico, Chile and Thailand. We and others need to collaborate to turn the concept into a reality on the ground in countries like Bangladesh."
Arsenic contamination of water supplies in the region was first brought to the world's attention by another high-impact RSC publication, The Analyst, in 1995 [2,3]. However, little has been done to remedy the situation, which was again highlighted in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring in 2004 . Bangladesh remains the most vulnerable country in the world to arsenic-contaminated water. The possibility of using an abundant, cheap, natural resource to reduce arsenic levels has the potential to end the suffering of millions and save thousands of lives.
The significance of the article meant the manuscript was accepted, edited and published on the same day.
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