Arsenic-contaminated drinking water affects tens of millions of people, especially in developing countries where existing treatment technologies are too expensive for widespread use. The prize will be awarded for the development of a small-scale, inexpensive technique for reducing arsenic levels in drinking water.
Treating drinking water with high levels of arsenic is not a major problem in the United States because many communities have the resources for expensive, centralized, and well-maintained water treatment facilities. "Different solutions are required in the developing world, and the solution has to work in the field," explained Alden Henderson of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta. "The idea of sustainability is to offer communities choices and an opportunity to have a hand in finding a solution."
A quarter of the population of Bangladesh drinks water from tube wells -- a cheap, low-tech way of accessing groundwater. Many of the country's estimated 10 million tube wells were built with international aid to provide an alternative to bacteria-tainted surface water. Unfortunately, these wells frequently tap into aquifers contaminated by arsenic from natural sources.
Arsenic poisoning is a slow, painful process that can ultimately result in death. Debilitating sores often appear first, followed by nerve damage, commonly in the hands and legs, which are especially sensitive to arsenic. Affected people can have difficulty working or even walking, and continued exposure can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, cancer, or the loss of arms or legs.
The goal of