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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 July 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
During the first quarter of 2018, Dr. Kabir and his team distributed about 300 copies of the operations and maintenance (O&M) manual they created for arsenic iron removal plants and SIDKO plants. A copy of the pictorial guidelines may be downloaded here (PDF, 11.5 MB). The recipients included plant caretakers, members of local government institutions, water workers such as mechanics and plumbers, NGO staff members, students, and water user committee representatives (40 copies). The recipients have noted that the publication will improve their knowledge about O&M for arsenic removal technologies and guide them to improve their practices. The remaining 200 copies of the guidelines will be distributed in the coming quarter. This project team also conducted train-the-trainers sessions for water professionals and workers from various organizations. The objectives of the activity were to increase the participants’ knowledge of timely operations and maintenance, regular monitoring, arsenic content of water and sludge, impact of disposal of arsenic bearing sludge into the environment, and repair procedures for minor faults in the arsenic removal systems. The methods used for the training were lectures, interactive presentations, and practical demonstrations. Of the total of five TOT events planned, three were carried out in this first quarter of the year, serving 62 participants (45 male and 17 female). The remaining events will be conducted in the coming quarter.

Another key aspect of this project involves providing orientation sessions for officials from local government institutions (LGI). The Union Parishad (UP), an LGI at the grassroots level in Bangladesh, has a great impact on various aspects of the life of the community. UPs can play a vital role in raising people’s awareness about the impacts of the disposal of sludge with high arsenic content into the environment, and they can also monitor the arsenic removal systems and the actions of plant caretakers regarding regular operations and maintenance. The PI and his team have selected UPs as the third-party monitor for project outcomes and have oriented UP chairmen, secretaries, and male and female members in the selected communities on the importance of proper disposal of arsenic bearing sludge, periodic and regular maintenance of treatment systems, and monitoring of removal technologies. The orientation increased the capacity of the LGI participants for supervising caretakers on O&M operations, particularly back washing. Five such orientation events were conducted during the first quarter of 2018, covering 71 participants (56 male, 15 female). Following the sessions, the UP members have been monitoring the maintenance of the arsenic removal systems in an enthusiastic manner.

Practical training for the arsenic plant caretakers themselves is the third key element in this project, aimed at increasing their knowledge about the importance of having arsenic-safe drinking water, O&M for arsenic removal technologies, regular backwashing, maintenance recordkeeping, and impacts of arsenic bearing sludge disposal in the soil and surface water. The training included interactive presentations, discussions, and practical demonstrations. One male and one female caretaker from each of the systems involved in the project participated. The theoretical part of the training was organized in selected UP complexes and the practical part at the nearest arsenic removal plant. The hands-on elements of the training were especially helpful for the caretakers to understand the O&M concepts and backwashing procedures easily. In the last quarter of 2017, the team had conducted six such training events covering 56 caretakers. The remaining four events planned were conducted in the first quarter of 2018 covering 24 participants (12 male, 12 female). During the caretaker training, some participants mentioned that they could not open the gate valves at their plants as required for system backwashing. AAN project staff found damages to some of the gate valves that could not be easily repaired. Thanks to PEER funds, the team was able to cover the cost of more extensive repairs to 16 plant gate valves and some additional general repairs such as plastering and changing of pipes and elbows.

As a result of carrying out this multi-faceted demonstration project, the PI and his team have also strengthened collaboration between the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), local NGOs, and the companies that sell and install the arsenic iron removal and SIDKO arsenic removal plants in the project area. Dr. Kabir reports that they have become so enthusiastic about the results seen that they will take necessary measures for regular backwashing and maintenance of the removal systems from the beginning of the installation in order to reduce risks of future environmental contamination. The involvement of the LGIs in the orientation program has also created new prospects for motivating the caretakers to carry out regular backwashing of the removal systems. According to the LGIs, most of the organizations providing the arsenic removal technologies are reluctant to conduct training for caretakers and do not have any monitoring mechanisms. The LGIs are now demanding that the sorts of activities carried out in this project be extended to other locations. They ensure that they will take necessary steps to motivate the caretakers for regular backwashing for the improvement of the quality of water on the one hand and the reduction of arsenic content in the sludge on the other. The TOT provided to the water workers and professionals of different organizations will help them to ensure the proper operations, maintenance, and regular backwashing of the arsenic removal technologies in the project area as well. A no-cost extension has been made on this project through July 2018 to allow the researchers to carry out two more TOT events for water workers and professionals, scientific monitoring of the arsenic content of the sludge from 40 plants where the new backwashing procedures have been implemented, and a district-level consultation workshop on sludge disposal. 


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).