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NMSU research finds innovative methods for mandated arsenic removal

A team of New Mexico State University researchers has collected breakthrough data on a textured material ideal for removing arsenic from groundwater.

Shuguang Deng and colleagues at NMSU are refining a method of removing arsenic from water.

Assistant Professor Shuguang Deng, Department Head Martha Mitchell and graduate student Venkat Viswanathan, all of chemical engineering, with agronomy and horticulture students Tim and Trine Jobe, spent the summer refining their removal technology. Their project titled "Arsenic Removal from Groundwater: Sol-gel Syntheses and Properties of Mesoporous Activated Alumina Adsorbents" provides a possible cost-effective technology for removing arsenic from water for human consumption.

Arsenic, a naturally occurring contaminant, is a known carcinogen and chronic exposure can lead to an increased risk for cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has lowered the arsenic standard in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

The change is scheduled to become effective in January 2006 and will affect water systems across the United States. Required, large capital outlays among treatment systems will be prevalent for many water utilities, especially those serving small rural communities.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has been instrumental in creating the cutting-edge Arsenic Water Technology Partnership Program (AWTPP) and securing the funding of the partnership approved by Congress.

WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development, headquartered at New Mexico State University, is part of the partnership that also includes Sandia National Laboratories and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation. Through the AWTPP, cost-effective ways to remove arsenic from drinking water are sought.

The NMSU research project began as part of the WERC 2005 Environmental Design Contest and evolved into a much larger research endeavor when the team was given the opportunity to apply for further funding. The AWTPP requested the research be continued and supported the project through student salaries and equipment.

The major objectives of the research were to validate the technological design created for the WERC Design Contest and to collect comprehensive breakthrough data on sol-gel derived alumina adsorbents for arsenic removal. Ultimately the team hopes that its promising arsenic adsorption technology will be selected for a larger pilot study and eventual deployment to impacted communities.

"The mesoporous activated alumina we synthesized is an ideal adsorbent media for arsenic removal from water because it has a large surface area, uniform mesopores, large pore volume and more importantly, controlled surface properties," Deng said. "Our investigation has demonstrated that the new adsorbent developed in this work has a high arsenic adsorption capacity and very favorable mass transfer properties."

The research resulting from the Design Contest "is precisely the objective of the WERC program," said Abbas Ghassemi, executive director of WERC. "Innovative research and development applications that address specific environmental and human health issues are exactly what was envisioned when the partnership was created through the senator's leadership."

The WERC consortium, administered by NMSU's College of Engineering, consists of NMSU, the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Dine College and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. WERC's mission is to develop human resources and technologies that assist various levels of government and private sector companies in addressing environmental issues.

For more information about WERC, visit www.werc.net or call Project Manager Roseann Thompson at (505) 646-7854.