Arsenic, a deadly poison abundant in Bangladesh’s soil and rock, has leached up through the water table into wells across the country, exposing an estimated seventy-five to ninety-five million people, including thirty-five million children. Major portions of northern India, where five hundred million people live, may also be affected by arsenic and other groundwater contaminants. The World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” bigger than the accidents at Bhopal and Chernobyl.
Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor from George Mason University, designed SONO water filter, an inexpensive method to filter drinking water, developing the active material, a composite iron matrix (CIM) absorbant. The low-cost, two-bucket system strains contaminated groundwater through sand, the CIM, charcoal, and brick chips to remove toxins, producing potable water. More than 225,000 SONO water filters, at a cost of US$35, have been distributed in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. Production started in 1999 in Bangladesh by the nonprofit Manob Sakti Unnayan Kendro (MSUK), which manufactures and distributes SONO in Bangladesh and India; the NGO Filter for Families produces them in Nepal. Quality control and technical details are handled by SONO Technology and Research in Bangladesh. SONO and MSUK buy back and recycle spent composite iron matrix.
Test results indicate SONO can remove arsenic, manganese (a neurotoxin), iron, and all transition metal ions. Filters can last at least fourteen years at the present usage rate of one hundred liters per day, sufficient for a family of five. SONO has made larger filters to clean a hundred liters an hour for community and semi-commercial use; smaller tabletop units are also under development.
Abul Hussam, Center for Clean Water and Sustainable Technologies, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, George Mason University, and Abul K. M. Munir, Manob Sakti Unnayan Kendro. Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, 1999–present. Sand, composite iron matrix, wood charcoal, brick chips, plastic buckets, tubing, metal