Engineering, Biology Team Works to Improve Water in Bangladesh


While many Americans will be recovering from holiday indulgences and exploring ways to keep their New Year?s resolutions, a team of Rowan University faculty and students will be traveling about 8,000

While many Americans will be recovering from holiday indulgences and exploring ways to keep their New Year?s resolutions, a team of Rowan University faculty and students will be traveling about 8,000 miles to help people they have never met obtain safe drinking water in a culture far removed from their own.

Erin Frey, senior, chemical engineering, New Ringgold, PA; Matthew DeNafo, junior civil engineering, Braddock, NJ; Walter Walker, senior, civil engineering, Vineland, NJ; and Lyndsy Castano, junior, biological sciences, Woolwich, NJ, will head to Bangladesh on January 1, 2005 with Dr. Kauser Jahan, a civil and environmental engineering professor and native of Bangladesh, to continue their efforts to develop a process to remove arsenic from groundwater.

The team of civil and environmental engineering, biological sciences and chemical engineering students has been working with Jahan and Dr. Patricia Mosto, interim associate provost and former chair of Rowan?s Biological Sciences Department, on the project since the fall of 2003.

?Bangladesh has a catastrophic arsenic problem,? Jahan explained. ?It has the world?s highest concentrations of arsenic in groundwater. The arsenic is naturally occurring.? An estimated 75 million people are at risk of developing health problems in that country because of arsenic ingestion and about one third of all the wells in Bangladesh have arsenic concentrations exceeding the recognized safety level and half the wells have concentrations exceeding the World Health Organization?s standard.

Mosto explained that Bangladesh residents typically had drawn their drinking water from rivers, but they were found to be highly contaminated with sewerage. Because of that contamination, they began to tap into groundwater for drinking, cooking and irrigation purposes.

About 10 to 15 years ago, Mosto said, it was discovered that the groundwater had a high concentration of arsenic.

?If you drink arsenic-contaminated water today, you?re not going to see the symptoms tomorrow,? Jahan said. Arsenic impacts major organs and there is evidence that it is a potent carcinogen.

Bangladesh add 1

Jahan started investigating the problem in the fall of 2003 and learned professors at Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were involved in similar work. Last December, using a travel grant from the National Science Foundation, Jahan visited her homeland to gather information. She sampled groundwater, determined what types of bacteria were prevalent in the area, and developed synthetic water to resemble the Bangladesh groundwater, testing how various cultures of bacteria reacted to arsenic.

In January, using a $10,000 grant from the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, she and four students will return (Mosto, though involved with the work, will not be able to attend). While there, the team will meet with research personnel from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and share their research work and ideas on technology transfer. The team also will visit an arsenic-sampling site in Sripur. Jahan will present a seminar on Incorporating Undergraduate Students in Research Activities and Effective Teaching at Brac University, Dhaka.

Jahan has been investigating the use of bacteria to remove arsenic, while Mosto has been working with algae to eliminate the substance from groundwater. Biological efforts, Jahan said, are less expensive than chemical or physical attempts to remove the arsenic.

Jahan?s engineering work has not focused on metals removal, but the Bangladesh effort is close to her heart. ?I don?t now if I?m going to find a solution, but I wanted to start looking at it,? she said.

In addition to helping the people of Bangladesh, this trip will benefit the Rowan students.

Said Jahan, ?Realistic projects like these that bring an international slant are very helpful to our students. I can see the growth in them as individuals and how they start caring about the project and expanding their view of the world.?

?Biology students,? Mosto said, ?learn science is not made in a vacuum.?