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PHE takes tech route to fight arsenic menace
Rituraj Borthakur

 
 GUWAHATI, July 22 - With the number of habitations affected by arsenic and fluoride nearing 4,000, the State’s public health engineering (PHE) department is planning to install solar power pumps and an affordable nano technology-based water purifier developed by IIT Madras to provide safe drinking water in the areas.

As on date, the number of arsenic-affected habitations stands at 3,726 and fluoride-affected is 155. Jorhat (with 959 affected habitations) and Baska (with 821 affected habitations) have been the worst hit in terms of high arsenic level in ground water. Ninety three habitations in Dhubri are affected by fluoride. Sources, however, said the actual number could be more with fresh tests confirming arsenic and fluoride in other areas as well.

A senior PHE official said 122 DPRs (detailed project reports) have been prepared and submitted with the National Water Quality Sub Mission, which was launched by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in March last. These 122 projects will cover 1,438 arsenic-affected habitations and they mostly deal with providing safe drinking water from surface water sources. Work is on in another 5,00 habitations.

In almost half of the remaining 1,788 arsenic-affected habitations, the PHE plans to install solar power operated pumps.

“The PHE is in the process of preparing the project reports. These habitations are basically remote areas, most of which do not have access to electricity. To purify the water, we will use the nano technology-based water purifier developed by IIT Madras,” PHE officials told The Assam Tribune.

The purifier developed by IIT Madras uses iron oxyhydroxide, a nano-structured material, to remove arsenic from drinking water. It functions without electricity or piped water supply. Once the filter reaches its saturation limit it has to be reactivated or recharged with new material.

The PHE is also studying the water use pattern in the habitations, for building reservoir tanks of appropriate levels. In case of fluoride-affected habitations, the PHE has taken up seven projects, while work is already on in eight others.

Till the planned projects are executed, the Niti Aayog has funded a project to provide stopgap arrangements in the highly arsenic-affected 96 habitations. The PHE is using solar powered deep tube wells in these habitations and work has been completed in around 60 of the projects. The firms installing the solar-powered deep tube wells will have to do the operational maintenance of the devices for three years.

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