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Feature Article of Monday, 10 September 2012

Columnist: Anim-Mensah, Alexander

'Plastic Bottle' Solution for Arsenic-Contaminated Water ....

....Threatening 100 Million People

With almost 100 million people in developing countries exposed to dangerously high levels of arsenic in their drinking water, and unable to afford complex purification technology, scientists have now described a simple, inexpensive method for removing arsenic based on chopped up pieces of ordinary plastic beverage bottles coated with a nutrient found in many foods and dietary supplements.

Dealing with arsenic contamination of drinking water in the developing world requires simple technology based on locally available materials," said study leader Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, Ph.D., Professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J. "Our process uses pieces of plastic water, soda, pop and other beverage bottles. Coat the pieces with cysteine -- that's an amino acid found in dietary supplements and foods -- and stir the plastic in arsenic-contaminated water. This works like a magnet. The cysteine binds up the arsenic. Remove the plastic and you have drinkable water." 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 technology is so straight-forward that people without technical skills can use it, Tongesayi said, citing that as one of its advantages over some of the existing arsenic-removal technologies. It can use discarded plastic bottles available locally, and the application of cysteine does not require complicated technology. Tongesayi is seeking funding or a commercial partner, which he said is the key to moving the arsenic-removing process into use in a relatively short time. The technology also has the potential for removing other potentially toxic heavy metals from drinking water. Odorless, tasteless and colorless, arsenic enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in soil and rock that occur in some parts of the world, including parts of the United States, and from agricultural and industrial sources. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include thickening and discoloration of the skin; stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; vision loss; and numbness in hands and feet. Arsenic also has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate.

The above article was published in ScienceDaily on September 1, 2011 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110831205923.htm. However, it was part of the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) report, a major scientific meeting with 7,500 technical papers, being held in Denver Colorado the week of August 29, 2011.

Comments The above information shows that Arsenic and other heavy metals are known to cause health problems and Cysteine is effective for their removal or dealing with them. Arsenic is present in some foods, water and air and which we are constantly exposed to. Cysteine is an amino acid found in some foods, some dietary supplements and is also made by the body. Cysteine is very beneficial to our body and this includes (1) assisting the body to detoxify heavy metals and chemicals, (2) protecting our cells from radical damage, and (3) assisting in the control of extra mucus in the lungs. Also, Cysteine is known to be vital for the prevention and/or treatment of asthma, acute respiratory distress syndrome, heart and liver disease, cataracts, hair loss, rheumatoid arthritis, viral infection, HIV/AIDS and heavy metal poisoning and exposure. The benefits of Cysteine make it necessary to consume Cysteine- rich foods. These Cysteine- rich foods include garlic, onions, red pepper, poultry, egg yolks, yoghurt, oats, wheat germ, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. However, there are other foods that contain Cysteine but not to appreciate levels to be effective and so are heavy metals in foods. While some could contain more heavy metals than others, others may contain both heavy metals and Cysteine but this may be dependent on location. Cysteine is also available on the market in raw form or as food supplement. If access to Cysteine is unavailable for water treatment; consuming foods rich in Cysteine could be of enormous benefit to the body. This save lives as well as prolonging our longevity.

Note that different plants pick different amounts of Arsenic from the soils and water. This means that different plants including some of our foods have the ability to accumulate Arsenic and other heavy metals and could be used for cleaning up exercises in areas with high levels of heavy metals and chemicals including petroleum. This also means some of our plants could be explored for phytoremediation. Phytoremediation however slow is renewable and could be coupled up with other techniques. I believe Ghanaian researchers in the areas of food, water, medicine, environment and others could involve multidisciplinary research along these lines to provide simple but effective solutions to some of our local existing and emerging problems. In addition, awareness needs to be drawn to areas with high levels of heavy metals, chemicals, etc without good or effective water treatment to consider consuming Cysteine -rich foods. Ghana will be a better place if we actively read, research, investigate, share information, effectively draw awareness and implement our findings. I believe the government institutions, private companies, NGOs, foundations, philanthropists, and others can be involved in providing funding to tertiary education and research institutes to equip them tailor solutions to some of Ghana needs. In turn, proper disseminating and/or packaging of information or findings from these research will be necessary to attract more funding. In addition, avenues need to be available to nurture new ideas.

Ministry of Science and Technology, Education and others needs to devise strategies to fund and support research as well as to nurture and safeguard new ideas in Ghana. Additionally, there is a need for bodies to look into the numerous findings and projects produced at the tertiary and research institutions and to select attractive ones with feasible economics for showcasing and for further investigations. I believe there are very effective solutions’ sitting on the shelves of many tertiary institutions and in the minds of many Ghanaians walking on the streets.

I hope the above information open our eyes to understand and to solve our own problems. God bless Ghana.

Alexander Anim-Mensah, PhD Dayton Ohio alexraymonda@yahoo.com

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