Alcohol may not solve all our problems, but it can solve at least one: A researcher in Scotland has found a way to purify arsenic-tainted water with the barley husks leftover from making whiskey.
Leigh Cassidy was working on her PhD when she first turned to alcohol. Then at Aberdeen University, she was researching how to clean up industrial waste. She thought that draff — or the leftover grain residue from brewing booze — could be compressed into a sort of filter. "I was told 'don't be stupid it will never work,'" Cassidy said to The Guardian.
But it did.
Cassidy modified the draff — exactly how she's keeping mum until patents come through — and called it Dram, or Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants. She's now working with PurifAid to bring Dram and arsenic-free water to Bangladesh.
Arsenic contamination in Bangladesh is a curious story, because it was cased by well-meaning international aid organisations. In the 1970s, the UN and World Bank spearheaded an effort to supply clean drinking water to Bangladeshis by digging wells. While the well water was free from diarrhoea-causing bacteria, it contained dangerously levels of arsenic, which naturally occurs in the ground at high levels in Bangladesh. The World Health Organisation called the country's subsequent arsenic crisis the "largest mass poisoning of a population in history" — the result, ironically, of well-intentioned efforts.
Today, clean water projects in the country focus on alternative sources such as collected rainwater and filtered surface water. But some 20 million people are still drinking arsenic-tainted water from the ground.
That's where the draff-inspired water filter comes in. While draff is plentiful in Scotland with all its distilleries, the same system in Bangladesh will use local material such as coconut shells and rice husks. Dram is expected to cost $US10 and filter 1000 litres of water a hour. If the unintended consequences of digging wells caused an arsenic crisis, it seems fitting that the unintended consequences of drinking whiskey might help solve it. [The Guardian via Sarah Emily Duff]
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