Water pollution is one of the most common forms of pollution we see around us every day, and it has evidently become a dangerously growing environmental issue.
According to the UN, on daily basis, two million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are poured into the Earth’s water, and consequently, infectious waterborne diseases are the number one cause of death of children under five years old worldwide.
Statistics which were conducted during 2010 show that the number of people who die from unsafe and contaminated water annually is more than the number of deaths caused by various forms of violence, including war. Among the most common reasons for water pollution are sewage, acid rain, fertilizers and industrial or agricultural waste, and the oil industry.
Following the 2011 tsunami which hit Japan, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in east Japan was subjected to several equipment failures and accidents which have led to the discharge of radioactive materials in the surrounding area, starting on March 12th.
Statistically, it is proved to be the largest nuclear catastrophe since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, releasing an estimated 10 to 30% of the radiation of the Chernobyl accident. It is estimated that 520 tons of radioactive water leaked into the Pacific Ocean, which in turn initiated a wave of huge negative effects on the marine life in the Earth’s largest ocean and concurrently the quality of drinking water in many areas.
In the aftermath of this tragic environmental event, scientists from all over the world worked to fight off the growing danger of contaminated water, since it can cause all kinds of natural disasters and incurable diseases.
Among the most dangerous contaminators of drinking water is arsenic, which can reach drinking water through erosion of natural deposits and runoff from glass & electronics production wastes.
Arsenic is mostly used in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps, and semi-conductors, and it can cause skin damage or molecular, biochemical and clinical disorders within the circulatory system, and increase the risk of getting cancer.
Prof. Dr. Sherif El Safty, an Egyptian born-and-raised chemist and expert in Nanotechnology, developed a Nano-material which enables simple, quick and efficient detection and removal of arsenic from drinking water.
El Safty obtained his Ph.D. in the year 2000 and worked as a lecturer at the Chemistry Department in the University of Tanta in Egypt, and in 2005, he was also appointed as an Associate Professor.
In 2008, he became a Senior Researcher at the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Japan, leading an independent group of passionate researchers who actively support the goal of creating nano materials for use in environmental clean-up systems.
He has worked in Japan for more than 10 years and has about 20 licensed inventions registered under his name. He also has published more than 190 papers in advanced materials and related chemistry journals and received over 16 awards worldwide.
His technique, which relies on nanotechnology to capture contaminators and reduce them from drinking water, has made him, formally, one of the most eligible scientists to win a 2013 Noble Prize in Chemistry.
The material which was developed by El Safty and his team is developed as a sensor for heavy metal ions and adsorbent materials, which El-Safty developed previously for a rare metal adsorption/recovery technique. The ingenious material, also known as a “chemo-sensor”, is developed from nanoporous substances, which consist of a regular organic or inorganic framework supporting a porous structure.
This type of materials can either be found in nature or fabricated. The size of the pores is generally 100 nanometers or smaller. Those nanoporous substances are densely packed with elements which can detect and capture arsenic inside the pores.
No matter how small of an amount of arsenic is present in water, these nanomaterials can capture the contaminators quickly and adsorb them, showing a change of color which is visible to the naked eye, indicating the absorption and removal of arsenic. This method has proved its efficiency in solving both large-scale and small-scale arsenic pollution situations.
Since it is highly quick, sensitive, light weight, cheap and basically harmless, it can be used by organizations working to solve problems such as the Fukushima leakage and it can also be used by individual organizations and companies or rather smaller institutions who aim to clean water supplied to them from various sources.
Professor El-Safty believes that nanotechnology has enormous potential to solve major problems especially in fields such as environmental pollution, energy, agriculture and medicine.
If given enough attention and further development, methods like this one and many others based on nanotechnology which are now under development can truly affect the impact of water (and other forms of) pollution and reduce it noticeably.
The ever-so-quick spreading of arsenic water poisoning is a red alarm light for environmental organizations to start focusing on such quick and efficient ways that can eliminate the threat of water pollution and consequently help restore our planet to its former clean, healthy and clear glory.
This article was first published in 2013 and is currently republished for its relevance.
- Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, Dr. Sherif El-Safty.
- Institute of NanoTechnology, To Save the World’s Drinking Water, January 9th2012.
- National Institute for Materials Science. “Nanmaterial detects and removes arsenic from drinking water.” ScienceDaily, 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
- Com, Top 5 Ways Water Gets Polluted, June 15th2009.
- WORLD WATER QUALITY FACTS AND STATISTICS, Pacific Institute, 2010.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Basic Information about Arsenic in Drinking Water.
- University of Sunderland, “The Power of Nanotechnology”, 26th September 2013.