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Research on arsenic present in water to determine its safety for drinking

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It is now recognized that at least 140 million people in 50 countries drink water containing arsenic at levels above the WHO provisional guideline value of 10 ppb.
Blincventures.com got candid with one of the finalists of Dopper Change Maker Challenge Suraj Shrestha, who is currently working as an engineer in SmartPaani. He did research on the presence of arsenic in drinking water. Read on to know more about the findings.

Can you tell us about your research?
Arsenic in water has been one of the major problems in Terai and after having read a number of research papers I found out that arsenic was prevalent here in Kathmandu too mainly in the Kuleshwor area. Generally, the standard of Nepal government is 50ppb whereas the WHO standard is 10 ppb and as per the research papers I reviewed around 18 places had arsenic levels more than 10 ppb but few research papers also found that arsenic was not present. So, I was keen on researching whether or not there was arsenic in water, because it was a matter of the lives of people.

What were your key findings?
We had a sample size of 60 out of which we found out that 5 places had water with arsenic that was below 10 ppb. So as per the Nepal Government, the water was drinkable. Whereas the remaining sample had arsenic level at around 8 to 9 ppb. Thus, our findings were that arsenic was not present in water in Kathmandu valley.

What are the limitations of this research?
Our sample was limited to Kathmandu valley only, so I believe that wasn’t sufficient, the sample size should have been more. Also, there were limited funds that were to be divided for the lab test and volunteers.

What were the major challenges?
For this research, we were looking for places that had deep boring which was tough to find, especially here at Kathmandu. People here in Kathmandu are drinking water from the community boring but have 0 knowledge about the quality. So, deciding the place based on the household survey was a challenge for us.
Likewise, there is very little research in this particular area. In a span of 15 years, there are only 4 to 5 research papers that- I came across. So, it was tough deciding the direction and the actions to take.

What innovation do you think this research will bring?
I think rather than innovation this research will bring in more of an extension. I believe that this area needs to be surveyed where water quality tests must be made of the sources and the government should also support this and work on validating the presence of arsenic in water. Many hospitals, apartments, hotels are being established that use boring water, so the government needs to strictly look into how the water is being tested, which test standard is being used and the like. So, I think this research will work as a path for other researchers to work in this area.

You talked about reviewing the research paper of a number of renowned researchers. Has there been any variance in your findings and their’s?
Yes, there have been variations. The places that had 200+ ppb arsenic levels now had arsenic levels of less than 15ppb. I thought I was mistaken but I did verify with the lab people.

What places incorporated the sample?
We did a 200+  household survey and based on that we chose areas like Thapathali, Kuleshwor, Kalimati, Thimi, Tuberculosis hospital, Bir hospital, Rangasala as our sample.

How does this research add value?
We have a basic concept that water is purified after we have boiled it. But if the water at your place has arsenic in it and if you boil it, it gets more concentrated which is more harmful. So, boiling is not always the option. Advanced methods like Reverse Osmosis (RO) have to be used in case of the presence of heavy metals in water. This is also the reason for targeting one particular cluster. And this research paper will generate awareness among people regarding this matter thus adding value.

How do the general people know about the quality of water?
It is always good to do water testing. You can visit an ISO standard lab and have the water tested. If the results are below the standard set by either the GoN or UN, then you can drink the water. So, it is always better to have an RO purifier in order to be safe.

What are the major problems caused due to arsenic?
Skin diseases and skin cancer are the major problems caused due to consumption of water containing a higher concentration of arsenic. In addition to this, you can have unusual diarrhea and vomiting in the long run even with the lower concentration of the arsenic. Likewise, if arsenic contained water is used for irrigation and farming plants and crops will absorb the arsenic from water and can affect our health if we consume it.

What according to you are the major benefits of being a participant of the Dopper Changemaker Challenge?
Research needs huge funding and Dopper Changemaker Challenge supported me with that. They gave us 75000 which helped a lot. Similarly, it also gave us a sense of credibility and confidence when talking to people in the field.

Do you consider yourself a change-maker?
Not yet but will surely be one. I honestly think that we didn’t cover many places, Kathmandu is itself a huge city and being limited to Thapathali, Kuleshwor, Kalimati, Thimi, and hospitals like Tuberculosis hospital, Bir hospital was definitely not sufficient. I think extensive research in this area is still needed.

What role do you think the government can play in this area?
Drinking water is our basic need. So I believe that the government at all levels should actively work in this area and find whether the water people are consuming is up to par or not because this is a serious issue that cannot be neglected. I would love to work with them in this area.

How do you aspire to change the world?
Firstly I need to start with myself. To be honest, I haven’t talked with my neighbors regarding the necessity of purification of water and the presence of metals like arsenic in drinking water. So, I would first start at a domestic level then slowly and steadily our nation and hopefully the world.

What do you think is the best way to increase awareness of safe drinking water?
I think we should target schools, it is not possible to visit households and aware of them. So, schools will be the best means. Also when the students are aware, the parents too become aware, then the society too. This also creates pressure on the concerned authority to make sure that the water is safe, clean and free from unwanted products like arsenic. So, it creates a ripple effect.

Any other thing you’d like to share with us?
Safe Drinking water is our basic need and is a significant part of a healthy life but people are still ignorant about this. People, especially in Terai, know that they are consuming water with arsenic and most of the people in other parts of the country are consuming water without basic purification of water but still don’t take any actions which are surely going to deteriorate their health in the long run. So, I would like to request everyone to be aware of and have knowledge about the water they are drinking.

Also, people need to know that boiling is not sufficient. Simple filtration techniques need to be used and everybody from youths to children to adults needs to be aware.

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya

Originally published on blincventures.com