Fieldwork

Collecting water samples from the field.

In February 2013, we travelled to Nepal, where our first meeting was at the ENPHO headquarters in Kathmandu with Dr. Suman Shakya and his colleagues to gain an understanding of their ongoing efforts towards addressing the issue of arsenic contamination in drinking water. From this meeting we gathered that:

  1. ENPHO has an ongoing educational and analytical program.
  2. ENPHO has a field office in the Terai region which services the local villages within the area.
  3. ENPHO is currently distributing “Kanchan” filters which can remove more than 99% of Arsenic from water.

Dr. Shakya organized our field trip to the Nawalparasi district where we met with the Arsenic Mitigation Committee of the area. Here we met Aya Shibuya and Gyan Prakash Yadav, Project Coordinator and ENPHO Office Manager respectively, who gave us a presentation on arsenic contamination in the region. From their analysis of the situation they identified four villages for us to visit, all of which are known to have arsenic contamination above the safe level set by the Nepalese government (50 ppb).

We visited the villages of Unwach, Kunawar, Pachgaun and Kirtipur, where we sampled water from several wells in each village to take back with us to the UK. The villagers that we communicated with were clearly aware of the problems associated with chronic arsenic consumption. We took this as a sign that the educational initiative taken by ENPHO and the government has been successful in bringing this information to the general public. This included large roadside murals depicting the pathology of arsenicosis and the source of the disease. Some murals also illustrated the use and benefits of the Kanchan filters which have been adopted by people with the educational and financial means to install, use and maintain them. We met several villagers that had pathologies associated with arsenicosis and they expressed their distress about their personal situation as well their desire that this problem does not span generations.

At Kunawar we also tested existing kits for the detection of arsenic on water from wells known to be significantly contaminated. While the kits did provide some level of information regarding arsenic contamination, we found that their use, handling and information readout to be cumbersome and not particularly suitable for local testing. This opinion was corroborated by Kunawari villagers who stated that they had performed this test before but were not enthusiastic about continuous or repeated testing. After further discussion, they informed us that the main reasons for this are the associated costs and the complexity of the measurement procedure. As we are developing a sensor for this application, we asked them what they would prefer in regards to operation and readout. The information they gave us was extremely useful. They stated that they would like a test that is as simple as possible to carry out, with the minimum number of steps and user input. They also mentioned that they feel a colorimetric output is suitable but that they would prefer a numeric scale instead of a colour gradient such as the current kits employ.