Contact Us  |  Search  
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research
Development, Security, and Cooperation
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About Us For Applicants For Grant Recipients Funded Projects Email Updates
Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Field assessment of arsenic-bearing waste treatment options

PI:  Ahammadul Kabir (Asia Arsenic Network)
U.S. Partner: Lutgarde Raskin (University of Michigan)
Project Dates: August 2013 to February 2016 (Evidence to Action Supplement June 2017 to May 2018)
Water quality and supply issues in South Asia, dominated by concerns of arsenic contaminated groundwater and microbially contaminated surface water, are expected to worsen with the effects of climate change. Arsenic removal systems are essential for providing drinking water but generate arsenic-bearing wastes that can re-release arsenic to the environment. This project focuses on arsenic-bearing waste management, an issue preventing greater implementation of arsenic removal systems. By collaborating with researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) and consultants at Carollo Engineers, Dr. Kabir and his group will apply techniques developed through their lab studies to evaluate field-scale arsenic-bearing waste management options. Specifically, they will (1) analyze arsenic wastes from two types of arsenic removal systems, (2) evaluate alternative waste disposal options, and (3) quantify the arsenic-transforming potential of microbial communities in disposal environments. 

Bangladesh Picture 1

Bangladesh Picture 2

Bangladesh Picture 3

A Sidko filtering machine in an arsenic iron removal plant (Photo courtesy Dr. Kabir).A backwash sludge water sample is collected from the arsenic removal plant (Photo courtesy Dr. Kabir).Collection of solid sludge samples nearby the arsenic removal plant (Photo courtesy Dr. Kabir).

The mitigation of arsenic contamination in drinking water in Bangladesh has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people in Bangladesh. Arsenic contamination of drinking water threatens human health and productivity by increasing morbidity and mortality (Argos et al. 2010). To properly address this barrier to development, guidelines for disposal of arsenic-bearing waste from arsenic removal systems must be established. This project will provide region-specific recommendations for arsenic-bearing waste management, enabling improved implementation of arsenic removal systems and enhancing the capacity of the Asia Arsenic Network (AAN) to provide clean drinking water. The results from this study will also inform decisions about how best to manage arsenic solids produced during water treatment to avoid recontamination of nearby soils and surface water with arsenic. AAN’s extensive outreach experience will be used to communicate findings with local arsenic removal plant operators and community members. AAN also works closely with local government officials and will communicate results and recommendations to policymakers. Planned training visits to the University of Michigan will also facilitate AAN’s capacity to conduct research and monitor water quality in Bangladesh, while upgrades to AAN’s lab equipment will enhance the organization’s capacity to test for multiple pollutants in drinking water, including not only arsenic but also microbial contaminants.
Summary of Recent Activities
In May 2017, Dr. Kabir was selected to receive a competitively reviewed PEER Evidence to Action supplement to help increase the impact of his original project. The major objectives of the supplement include (1) development of standard pictorial guidelines for backwashing to prevent the buildup of highly contaminated sludge at arsenic removal plants, (2) identification of all the arsenic iron removal plants in the Jessore area, and (3) training of caretakers for backwashing, coupled with awareness creation among the users about the further pollution in the respective locations. The PI and his team will also engage with representatives of local government institutions, community leaders, and NGOs through a final workshop to disseminate the improved practices.

The start of the supplemental project was delayed by administrative requirements for the PI’s institution to receive the funds, but once the money arrived in late September the team quickly got started. By the end of 2017 they had accomplished a great deal. Regarding the development of operational, maintenance, and sludge disposal guidelines, the team has created two types of guidelines, one pictorial and one narrative, for the arsenic iron removal plant and SIDKO arsenic removal plant. The users of the pictorial guidelines will be plant caretakers, while the narrative guidelines are targeted at water workers/professionals and designed to be used in the Training of Trainers. The pictorial guidelines include several interactive sketches so that caretakers can easily understand how they have to carry out the operation and maintenance (O&M) for getting arsenic-safe water and how they can reduce the risk of further contamination of arsenic from the disposal of the backwash sludge. Specific topics covered include backwashing, aeration tray and drain cleaning, top sand layer scraping, cleaning and changing of sand and gravels/brick chips, and testing of water and sludge for arsenic. The narrative guidelines have the same features but presented in narrative form so that the water workers/professionals can easily understand and help the caretakers to do so. Both sets of guidelines were developed in the local language (Bengali), and a copy of the pictorial guidelines may be downloaded here (PDF, 11.5 MB) 

On November 9, 2017, the team conducted a day-long stakeholders’ consultation workshop at the Asia Arsenic Network’s Jessore office in order to inform the representatives of different organizations about the PEER research, characteristic features of the arsenic bearing sludge, importance of backwashing, toxicity leaching characteristics of sludge, and potential for further contamination of the environmental elements like soil and surface water. The importance of having guidelines for O&M and sludge disposal was also discussed. A total of 16 professionals from 16 organizations and five resource persons participated in the workshop. Organizations represented included the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE, a government agency responsible for drinking water supply in rural areas), local NGOs, and water-related operational organizations. During the workshop the participants provided valuable input on the O&M and sludge disposal guidelines, including suggestions for improvement of the regular O&M, sludge disposal, and backwashing of arsenic-removal technologies. They also suggested involving WATSAN committees of the local upazila (sub-district) and union (lowest tier of local government institutions) more closely.

In November and December 2017, Dr. Kabir and his team presented six day-long training sessions for a total of 56 caretakers (half male, half female) from 28 arsenic iron removal plants and 2 SIDKO arsenic removal plants. The objective of the training was to increase their knowledge about the importance of taking arsenic-safe drinking water, O&M of arsenic removal technologies, regular backwashing, keeping backwashing records, and impacts of the arsenic bearing sludge disposal in the environmental elements like soil and surface water. The practical elements of the training were conducted at actual arsenic removal sites, which helped the caretakers to understand the O&M and backwashing more easily. The caretakers mentioned that they had never received such training before and had no idea about the backwashing and the impact of arsenic-bearing sludge to the environment, and they highly appreciate this training opportunity.

In addition to the guideline development and training efforts, the team has also worked on sludge sample collection and analysis. They took 40 liquid sludge samples from 40 sites located in different sub-districts of the Jessore district, dried them, and then analyzed their arsenic content by atomic absorption spectrophotometry following the standard arsenic extraction method. The results were recorded to serve as baseline arsenic concentration data, so concentrations can be rechecked later after the backwashing procedures are implemented.

The team plans to print 500 copies of their guidelines in January, and in January and February they will conduct 17 more training and orientation sessions. Follow-up monitoring of concentrations will be carried out in March 2018.

2-524 Participant Questions
A participant asks questions during the presentation of the PEER project during the regional workshop (Photo courtesy Dr. Kabir).

2-524 Sludge Removal
A team member collects sludge from the local water supplies. The children do not appear satisfied with the quality of the water (Photo courtesy Dr. Kabir).