LARAMIE — An accidental discovery by a University of Wyoming professor is making it easier to remove toxic arsenic from water. Arsenic occurs naturally in certain rocks, and the weathering of arsenic-containing minerals and ores can introduce the toxin into the water.
The University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS), a state nonprofit organization have entered an agreement to develop and market a patented technology that removes arsenic from water.
"We're going to use our contacts within the industry (water treatment companies) and market this to try to get somebody to go forth with a commercially viable product for the technology," said Mark Pepper, executive director of WARWS, based in Glenrock. "Money from royalties will flow back to the university to the benefit of the state."
UW professor KJ Reddy developed the technology through an accidental discovery he made while working under contract with the uranium industry to remove selenium from uranium-produced water. He found cupric oxide nanoparticles removed the selenium, but also removed arsenic, though it took him seven years to figure out why
"Seven years ago, the scientific and engineering community was skeptical," Reddy said of his discovery. "Now they are becoming accepting of this new process to filter arsenic and other trace elements from water."
UW now owns U.S. patents for both the arsenic removal process and for the regeneration of the cupric oxide nanoparticles. Reddy owns four international patents — in Australia, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand — for the filtering process.
"It's exciting to see that the research is going to the next stage as a practical application," Reddy said.
Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless semi-metal poisonous element. It can enter drinking water supplies from natural earth deposits or from agricultural and industrial activity. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, kidney, liver, lung, nasal passage, prostate and skin cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's official website.
"Arsenic is not just an issue in Wyoming, but worldwide," Pepper said.
The ultimate goal for the partnership with WARWS is to make the UW technology into new products that can diversify the Wyoming economy.
Pepper said the technology works like water filters that are attached to household faucets. Such filters remove elements before water flows through the faucet.
While there are other technologies on the market that have the ability to remove arsenic from water, UW's technology was attractive because of its potential for commercial affordability, Pepper said.
Reddy agreed, saying his arsenic removal process is less energy and time intensive than others as a one-step process.
"Unlike other processes on the market, there is no pre-treatment or post-treatment," Reddy said.
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