Naturally occurring and industry-related arsenic can contaminate groundwater at high levels in many countries, including Chile, China, Hungary and Mexico. The odourless, tasteless element can cause skin discoloration, stomach pain, partial paralysis and a range of other serious health problems. While the technology for removing arsenic from water exists and is in widespread use in industrialized areas, it is expensive and impractical for rural and developing regions.
A team led by Jiaxing Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing researched using cigarette ash with a coating of aluminium oxide to remove the chemical. When they tested the material with contaminated groundwater, they found it removed more than 96% of the arsenic, reducing its levels to below the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Because cigarette ashes are discarded in countries around the world and can be easily collected in places where public smoking is allowed, it could be part of a low-cost solution for a serious public health issue, they say.
The method is reported in the American Chemical Society journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. the abstract can be found here.