Removing Arsenic From Water With…Plastic Bottles and Nutrition Supplements?!


Written by Jaymi Heimbuch, a Treehugger blogger

When we think of plastic bottles, we usually think of them as a serious problem tied up with our drinking water, not a possible solution for cleaning water for 100 million people. But researchers have found that by combining cut-up plastic bottles with a nutrient found in dietary supplements, water contaminated by arsenic can be made clean enough to drink.

American Chemical Society reports that almost 100 million people in developing countries are exposed to dangerously high levels of arsenic in their drinking water. But this new technology could help as a simple, inexpensive and very easy to use solution.

“Dealing with arsenic contamination of drinking water in the developing world requires simple technology based on locally available materials,” said study leader Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, Ph.D., professor of analytical and environmental chemistry at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J. “Our process uses pieces of plastic water, soda pop and other beverage bottles. Coat the pieces with cysteine — that’s an amino acid found in dietary supplements and foods — and stir the plastic in arsenic-contaminated water. This works like a magnet. The cysteine binds up the arsenic. Remove the plastic and you have drinkable water.”

In tests, the strategy was used in water containing 20 parts per billion (twice the US EPA safety standard) and bind enough arsenic to produce water of just 0.2 ppb.

Plastic bottles are ubiquitous and can be gathered locally, and adding the cysteineis a non-technical process, so essentially anyone in any village would be able to provide nearly arsenic-free water to residents.

Arsenic in the water is an increasing problem as groundwater sources are over-exploited, and researchers are working hard to discover where arsenic is most prevalent in water supplies. From Bangladesh and areas of Southeast Asia, to even the US, as we drill deeper for water we come up with contamination. Knowing where arsenic is a problem is step one, while step two is finding cheap, simple solutions for removing it.

The technology developed by Tongesayi sounds promising, though using plastic in such a way may have its own ill effects. Another possible technology for removing arsenic utilizes a more natural substance – cattails.

This post was reprinted with permission from Treehugger.


Related Stories:

Studies Find Arsenic in Apple Juice

Building Schools With Recycled Plastic Bottles

CA Schools Pressured To Teach Pro-Plastic Curriculum

Photo from pen3ya vial flickr creative commons

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Kamryn M.
Kay M.4 years ago


Kamryn M.
Kay M.4 years ago


Vivianne Mosca-Clark how do they get rid of the plastic covered with arsenic? A thought.

Karen Simons
Karen Simons4 years ago

100 million people in developing coutries? Well, they are going to be killed by whatever means possible, and water is a sure bet. These poor (unfortunate) people have been poisoned by Monsanto and many other corporations. Get rid of arsenic? Hmm. I just wonder if that is even possible. Probably not.

Matt B.
Matt B.4 years ago

Lets see the data and test results over time.

Pagan Butterfly
Pagan Butterfly4 years ago

Hmm...I don't know...I think it may lead to more problems down the road but the prospect of having safe, clean drinking water for those in need makes it an attractive, cheap solution

Monica D.
Monica D.4 years ago

Interesting, but may lead to more issues. Perhaps the underlying issue (overexplotation of groundwater) needs to be addressed.

Claire M.
Claire M.4 years ago

It may help to filter out the arsenic but over time I can not believe the ill effects of plastic will not cause more problems.

Alicia N.
Alicia N.4 years ago

noted with thanks

Betsy M.
Betsy M.4 years ago

This is a creative use of available resources. I hope plastic rubbish becomes less available, but meanwhile,