Millions of people in the developing world are frequently hapless victims of arsenic poisoning. This is not because they have angry spouses, but because arsenic is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless compound derived from soil and rock deposits, as well as agricultural and industrial sources, that enters the water stream undetected. Even Zam Zam holy water in Mecca is contaminated. Rather than attempt to overhaul the entire drinking water system of these millions of people, Tsanagurayi Tongesayi Ph.D from Monmouth University presented a low-cost, ridiculously simple solution at a recent American Chemical Society meeting in Colorado that uses plastic (our nemesis) to remove arsenic from contaminated water.
An analytical and environmental chemistry specialist, Tongesayi discovered that pieces of plastic taken from a variety of beverage containers – coke, pepsi, aquafina, any plastic will do – coated with an amino acid called cysteine that is present in food and supplements, can convert a glass of arsenic-contaminated water into a fresh drinking delight within seconds. The cysteine acts like a magnet that sucks up and binds the arsenic without creating any kind of unwelcome side effects.
Science Daily provides the stats:
Tongesayi described laboratory tests of the plastic bottle arsenic removal method on water containing 20 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, which is two times the safe standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. It produced drinkable water with 0.2 ppb of arsenic that more than meets the federal standard.
The beauty of this technology lies in its simplicity, according to Tongesayi. Anybody can use it, which means that households in developing countries need not sit around waiting for aid agencies or ineffective governments to deliver solutions to a contamination problem that produces thickening and yellowing of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomitting, diarrhea, vision loss, and a variety of other ailments.
Instead, if Tongesayi is able to find a commercial partner or funding, he can advance the quick distribution of this technology and enable said households to literally take life into their own hands.
More on arsenic and water pollution in the Middle East: