iArsenic - Instant arsenic screening of groundwater wells in Bangladesh using social networking technology

Project Details


Groundwater is an attractive source of drinking water particularly in developing countries, as it can be supplied untreated. To avoid waterborne pathogenic diseases, governments and NGO’s encouraged installation of millions of tubewells – low-cost mechanical hand-pump wells – in Bangladesh. This has inadvertently exposed around ca. 40% consumers to arsenic which is naturally present in the groundwater. Over 20 million Bangladeshi people are exposed to this insidious toxin through the use of over 10 million tubewells. Switching to a safe well has been a major mitigation option for rural inhabitants, but 6 million wells are yet to be tested. Building on existing research, we believe that computer modelling and digital technology can help solve this issue. We have reported1∗ that the presence or absence of arsenic in a tubewell can be assessed with>90% confidence using: staining of the tubewell platform (a geochemical indicator)2, the welldepth3 and street address (producing a 3D location indicator)4 . People living in rural Bangladesh can identify the staining and generally will know the well-depth to sufficient accuracy. We have already utilised these observational indicators and a sample of a public tubewell arsenic-level dataset to develop a computer model4. The PI has developed a demonstration web application accessible at https://mhoque.shinyapps.io/SafeWell/. This application allows users to provide key information about the well and to get an instant answer as to the presence or absence of arsenic. We propose to further extend the model to couple user-derived information (attested platform staining in new locations) with available datasets. The existing prototype uses a small subset of the available data samples from over 4 million tubewells; in this project we would clean more data, focusing on identified gaps, especially where arsenic is a widespread problem. In effect, the project would provide, for the first time, an instant arsenic level assessment to tubewell owners. The widespread internet coverage and increasing use of smartphones in Bangladesh – at least 2Gsignal is available almost everywhere – provides a powerful opportunity both for gathering data and for disseminating information on arsenic pollution. Furthermore, Bangladesh officially encourages app-based solutions. Real-world user testing of the application needs an improved computer model, deployment in a production platform so that it can be simultaneously used by thousands of users, and a careful consideration of legal and ethical issues. The data we generate will allow further risk assessment to inform policymakers and to model aquifer geology at a larger scale. This pilot proof-of-concept and demonstration project will support a larger bid to e.g. GCRF, Wellcome Trust, which in turn will allow greater impact. The Wellcome Trust have shown interest in this work in relation to the "Innovator Awards" call. A conservative estimate is that the use of the anticipated application could bring clean water to several million people in a few years by encouraging well-switching. Also, this will help the government to save screening cost, adopt risk based mitigation strategies for safeguarding health and wellbeing of the rural inhabitants and ultimately, for the country’s increased economic productivity.
Effective start/end date1/08/1831/07/19


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