Sandia Begins Arsenic Removal Demonstration Project In New Mexico

A pilot plant to evaluate commercially available technologies for removing arsenic from municipal drinking water supplies will begin operating this month in Anthony, N.M.

The project, announced on July 28, is based on a memorandum of understanding between Sandia National Laboratories and Desert Sands Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association (MDWCA). Commercial vendors have supplied Sandia with a variety of arsenic-removal products for evaluation at the pilot plant.

The project is in response to the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for Arsenic issued by EPA. This regulation states that the public health standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.010 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Public water systems must comply with the 10 ppb standard beginning Jan. 23, 2006. The current maximum contaminant level for arsenic in drinking water is 50 ppb.

"The strict arsenic standards that take effect in 2006 are placing a tremendous burden on rural communities that simply can't afford to meet the standard," Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), said. "We are investing in scientific expertise at Sandia to try to develop technologies that will allow the standards to be met in the most cost-effective manner."

The Arsenic Water Technology Partnership supports the project with congressional funding through the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Domenici has secured the funding for this initiative since 2003 as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

The partnership includes Sandia, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF) (an international, nonprofit organization that sponsors research to enable water utilities to provide safe and affordable drinking water) and WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development.

The lab's work is done as part of the Sandia Water Initiative. The initiative's primary objectives are to increase the safety, security and sustainability of the water supply infrastructure through the development of advanced technologies that create new water supplies, decrease demand through water-use efficiency, and provide decision-informing tools to the institutions responsible for balancing supply and demand.

Development of new arsenic removal technologies is the responsibility of AwwaRF. Sandia's role is to pilot promising new technologies from the commercial or academic sectors. WERC will evaluate the economic feasibility of new technologies and transfer information to the water utilities.

The Arsenic Water Technology Partnership seeks to enable water utilities, particularly those serving small rural communities and Indian tribes, to implement the most cost-effective solutions to their arsenic treatment needs. More information about the partnership is available at

Because New Mexico has a particularly high number of communities affected by the new arsenic standard, the initial arsenic removal pilot plant projects are located in the state (another pilot plant is operating at Socorro). Other pilot plants will go on line later in the state and other regions of the country.

"There are several competing arsenic removal technologies on the market," said Paul McConnell, a Sandia staff member. "The pilot plant project provides for an unbiased comparison of the effectiveness of the commercial options for arsenic removal. These results should be very useful to municipal water systems decision makers."

The Anthony pilot will focus on the use of adsorbents, natural or man-made materials that have been designed for the purpose of removing arsenic and other contaminants. The arsenic-removal materials are packed into columns through which untreated water flows. The arsenic is adsorbed by the material and the water comes out nearly arsenic free. Systems can be large enough to treat enough drinking water for large communities or can be small enough to sit under a kitchen sink.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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