A new project to remove arsenic from groundwater in Cambodia was announced yesterday at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. The project will utilize Subterranean Arsenic Removal technology, developed by a team of engineers led by Bhaskar Sengupta from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Queen’s University and RUPP have been working together on the emissions-free SAR implementation scheme for three years and are launching it in Svay Phlos commune in Prey Veng province’s Peam Chor district at the end of July.
The project is funded by the British Council’s Development Partnerships in Higher Education program. Mr Sengupta said that if funding extended beyond the one-year trial period, it would expand to Kandal province.
Using 2008 census data, the team assessed the need for a large-scale arsenic treatment program in Cambodia. Levels of arsenic in groundwater and tube wells were found to be 50 to 60 times higher than safe levels established by the World Health Organization. A 2008 field study conducted near Phnom Penh revealed that arsenic dissolved into groundwater at a much higher depth than previously believed, a mere 2 to 3 meters from the surface. Arsenicosis is a slow-developing illness with symptoms including cancers, tumors and skin diseases.
Andrew Shantz, laboratory and research director for the NGO Resource Development International, said it is estimated that between 75,000 and 150,000 Cambodians consume arsenic-contaminated groundwater daily. A SAR plant costs about $3,000 to construct, and it cleans and produces 10,000 liters of safe water per day. A running cost of about $10 per month is required for electricity and related costs.
Project coordinator Chea Eliyan said the program would be used to educate local people and enable them to look after the plant themselves. “It is for the community, and they will be taught how to take care of it. During the initial project period (six to eight weeks), a project consultant and a team member…will monitor the development of the project,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Alice Burke)