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The world’s first solar-powered and autonomous technology to remove arsenic from ground and surface water in India has been developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University in collaboration with partners from India and Bangladesh.

Arsenic-poisoned water currently affects a quarter of a billion people in India, with up to 80 per cent of disease in the country stemming from drinking water contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic.

More than 137 million people from 70 countries are thought to be exposed to the chemical on a daily basis through water consumption, which is one of the most extreme forms of human poisoning on record and can lead to cancer, cognitive impairment in children and respiratory disease.

The research was carried out in West Bengal, which is recognised by the WHO as one of the most severely affected areas of arsenic-contaminated groundwater.

Led by Dr Bhaskar Sen Gupta OBE Professor in Water Technology at Heriot-Watt, the technology safely and efficiently removes arsenic from water supplies. The research was funded by the World Bank.

Ideal for rural communities most commonly affected by the problem (92% of India’s population), the technology is controlled via a mobile phone application and has no running costs for 25 years.

Professor Sen Gupta, project lead at Heriot-Watt University said: “Detecting arsenic requires scientific testing, which is a problem for rural communities who don’t have access to such facilities. The new in-situ technology initially developed in partnership with experts in India and other European institutions is very low cost to run, produces no waste and is fully autonomous. This makes a huge change to small communities who previously relied on conventional methods of arsenic removal which required more resource and were expensive to run.

“Water and food security are innate human rights which are still a problem for vast numbers of people in India, and this technology has the potential to transform the health and wellbeing of a high percentage of the Indian population.”

This year the first plant using the new technology was opened in Bangladesh, another country heavily affected by the problem, with support from the Bangladesh Green Energy Foundation.

The initiative has delivered safe drinking water to 200 school children to date and aims to extend the results to a further 800 people over the course of the next year, with the addition of another plant being commissioned in West Bengal under the UK-India Innovate programme.

For more information about the mission in India, visit studyinscotland.org or #ScotlandwelcomesIndia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.