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Professors receive NSF funding to reduce exposure and ingestion of arsenic in groundwater

Published: 11/17/2014

Professors James Saunders, Ming-Kuo Lee, and Ashraf Uddin, all of the Department of Geology and Geography, recently received a $345,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for a project titled, “Metal(loid) Sequestration by Natural Bacterial Sulfate Reduction and Field-Scale Biostimulation.” The researchers will evaluate if indigenous sulfate-reducing bacteria can be stimulated to make nanoparticle biominerals of iron sulfides that have the capacity to remove arsenic from contaminated groundwater. Two sites will be evaluated: an industrial site in Florida that is routinely doused with arsenic-rich pesticides; and an alluvial aquifer in Macon County, Ala., where arsenic contaminates groundwater by a natural biogeochemical process. The project was funded jointly by the Environmental Engineering and Low-Temperature Geochemistry and Geobiology programs at NSF.

The research will incorporate concepts and methods from two U.S. patents, one granted to Saunders, 5,833,855, and the other granted to both Saunders and Lee, 7,341,664 B2. The project also builds on the three professors’ previous NSF-funded research on causes of widespread natural arsenic contamination of groundwater in southeastern Asia.

The goals of the project include the development of field-based bioremediation techniques that have applications to both industrial and natural arsenic contaminated groundwaters. In particular, the researchers hope to discover whether a cost-effective technology that is appropriate to local cultural economics can be developed to remediate arsenic-contaminated groundwater being consumed by tens of millions of people in southeastern Asia. As a result, the project offers a potential remediation and mitigation tool to reduce both exposure to arsenic and the quantity of arsenic ingested, and has both immediate and long-term implications for improving human health in the Indian subcontinent where freshwater resources are increasingly exposed to toxic arsenic.

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