Could nanotechnology provide a solution to Bangladesh’s groundwater arsenic contamination? A new nanomaterial made from magnetite and graphene has been used to remove arsenic from drinking water. Once the hybrid material absorbs the arsenic, it can be separated from water using handheld magnets or filters. However, disposing of the nanoparticles safely to prevent them from entering the environment or being ingested is a problem. While the technology has been deemed ‘low-cost’, certainly a must for developing countries like Bangladesh, the question of further risks associated with any new technology needs to be accounted for, including how people in Bangladesh will interact with it if it is implemented.
As shown by social researchers in IHRR, how people understand nanotechnology has large implications for its success overall and whether the people affected by it will be able to play a role in its governance. The arsenic problem in Bangladesh was originally caused by technological intervention to provide ‘safe’ drinking water, but it unfortunately back fired replacing stagnant, disease-ridden water with water contaminated with arsenic and other toxic elements.
Other solutions have been brought forward in the past such as low-tech methods for accessing arsenic-safe drinking water that have been trialled. Dr Manzurul Hassan, a visiting fellow at IHRR, described some of these methods in an interview. People in developing countries, especially Bangladesh, deserve to have technologies that can solve their health and environmental problems, but without unforeseen costs to health, ecology or livelihood. There is no question of the benefits nanotechnology could bring to people in developing countries, but how it could transform society in ways we do not yet fully understand must be addressed if it is to be adapted for any benevolent purpose.
Technique for arsenic-free water developed. SciDev.net