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New Mexicans take arsenic removal expertise to India

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico State University's program manager for the WERC Resources Center in Albuquerque presented a workshop on arsenic-removal programs for drinking water at the International Perspectives on Environmental and Water Resources Conference held in New Delhi, India.



Chris Campbell, NMSU's program manager for the WERC Resource Center in Albuquerque, recently presented a workshop on arsenic-removal programs in New Mexico at the International Perspectives on Environmental and Water Resources Conference held in New Delhi, India. (NMSU photo)

Christopher Campbell of NMSU's Institute for Energy and the Environment in the College of Engineering represented the university at the December conference. The event was organized by the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur.

Campbell and his colleagues, Tim Ward of the University of New Mexico and Suhas Gogate of Ion Exchange (India) Ltd., presented a workshop on arsenic-removal programs for drinking water in New Mexico and India. The Institute for Energy and the Environment and its affiliated group, WERC, a consortium for environmental education and technology development, are members of the Arsenic Water Technology Partnership, which provides critical technical assistance to arsenic-affected water systems in New Mexico.

"Indian communities are very poor and don't have access to the kind of technology that we do," Campbell said. "But we are hoping to help them, in collaboration with groups such as Ion Exchange, to develop some simple, low-tech solutions."

Campbell said he and Ward were invited to speak at the conference because of their success with working with small New Mexican water-system boards, which face challenges similar to those in India.

"Suhas provided background on the severe arsenic contamination issues particularly evident in the Indian state of West Bengal and in Bangladesh, where levels of arsenic can reach over 300 parts per billion (ppb)," Campbell said. "Ion Exchange and other companies and agencies work with local authorities to provide portable treatment units to poor, rural communities trying to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 50 ppb. Most are designed as filtration units attached to existing village water pumps."

Ward presented an overview of the arsenic issue in the United States, including the effect of the Environmental Protection Agency lowering the standard to 10 ppb and the formation of the Arsenic Water Technology Partnership to test arsenic removal technologies for rural communities in New Mexico. There are approximately 75 communities in the state affected by the new EPA standards ranging in size from small community water systems to the metropolitan system of Albuquerque.

"I then described the functions of the three partners including the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, Sandia National Laboratories and WERC," Campbell said. "Several of the pilot test sites in New Mexico were shown along with various technologies, the point-of-use options and results from the partnership's pilot testing."

The workshop included examples of training and outreach to water operators and community members from rural New Mexico, including on-site technical assistance and use of the Comprehensive Arsenic Tool (CoAsT), Campbell said.

With CoAsT, an Internet-based tool developed by WERC as part of the Arsenic Partnership, real data on water systems can be entered and specific options for those systems can be extracted. Of particular interest was the model that can be customized for any type of water system affected by arsenic.

"One of the main points of our workshop was to talk about the community development aspect," he said. "Community leaders must be aware of the health hazards associated with high levels of arsenic in drinking water and the necessity of lowering those levels. In New Mexico we have had success in this area while talking with small water system boards that are comparable to Indian community leadership."

He added that the community leaders must also be aware that once the equipment is brought to their communities it must be property installed and maintained.

Much of the conference focus was on water resources and environmental issues in the developing world, especially in Asia, Campbell said.

"Engineers, scientists and planners from over 20 countries presented technical papers on environmental modeling, water supply and sanitation, watershed and river basin management, wetlands protection, hydrology, inter-basin transfer of water, privatization and arsenic contamination," he said. "It was concluded that water in most of Asia remains plentiful but that allocation, distribution, storage and use, i.e. management, are essential to avoid a crisis in the 21st century. Globalization and shifts in world trade and related immigration will impact agricultural conditions and associated water use. Research on drought-resistant and flood-resistant crops is necessary to reduce water use."

Water management in urban Asia is "a disaster," he added, because of the inability to control equitable access, pricing and revenue development, as well as severe water loss in antiquated distribution systems.

"Solutions need to come from the field by having the Asian engineering schools expand their teaching to include legal, social and political fundamentals of water management including the use of non-governmental organizations to assist in community education on water issues," he said. "One technical aspect that still requires attention is the effective storage of Asian monsoon rains that can often deposit 80 percent of area annual rainfall in as little as 70 to 80 hours."

Campbell and Ward also visited two leading technical universities in New Delhi to provide information on NMSU, IEE, WERC and the Arsenic Partnership. They met with the chair of civil engineering and head of the Centre for Energy Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, the leading science and engineering institution in the country.

They also met with the director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the premier agricultural college in India. This is a graduate institution devoted to the same type of soil science, animal husbandry and agricultural research being conducted at NMSU. Promotional materials from NMSU were provided with particular emphasis on New Mexico's cotton and chile research, which is the IARI director's specialty.

"A recent IARI graduate, Dr. Sangu Angadi, is now conducting research at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Clovis," Campbell said. "He will be an important connection for any possible collaboration between NMSU and IARI."

The trip was funded in part by NMSU's Office of International and Border Programs through its matching travel grants program.