The Optimist Citizen
Dr Robin Dutta, Tezpur

Assam professor develops a filter that removes toxic elements from drinking water at 1paisa/litre.

Dr Robin Dutta from Tezpur University designed a DIY Filter, Arsiron Nilogon, that removes toxic elements such as Arsenic and Iron from water for just 1 paisa/ litre. The low-cost filter effectively removes other toxins such as manganese, lead, nickel, chromium, copper, etc.

Arsenic is an abundant element on Earth. It is widely available in air, water, and land. However, the same element has a detrimental impact on the human body. Long exposure to Arsenic as drinking water is likely to cause diseases like skin cancer, bronchitis, diabetes, bone marrow depression, and cardiovascular diseases. Assam is one of the few Indian states that suffer from groundwater Arsenic contamination. According to data presented by the Public Health Engineering Minister Rihon Daimary to the state assembly in October 2018, groundwater in 6,881 areas in 24 districts of Assam contains Arsenic. Not to mention, this has grave implications.

Assam professor develops a filter that removes toxic elements from drinking water at 1paisa/litre.
Dr Robin Dutta giving a small demonstration of his DIY filter

Dr Robin Dutta, a senior professor of Tezpur University in Assam, was moved after seeing the plight of people who were severely affected by Arsenic and Fluoride in water. He had first-hand experienced the devastating effects of the element. While he lost his dear ones to the ill effects of the Arsenic-contaminated water, the government’s apathy at the prevalent issue further frustrated. This led Dutta to develop the cost-effective and sustainable solution, the Arsiron Nilogon. The low-cost DIY filter utilises a simple filtration process to give Arsenic-free pure water that costs barely 1 paisa per litre. It is also effective in removing other toxins such as manganese, lead, nickel, chromium, copper, etc.

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The DIY-filter Explained

Dutta explains that a person needs two 20 litre buckets, sand, gravel and three common chemicals to remove Arsenic, iron and all toxic metals. This would make the sustainable innovation make water drinkable. The water is poured and mixed with chemicals in one of the buckets. The other bucket is used to make a sand-gravel filter. One would need 2 grams of cooking soda, six drops of 5 per cent potassium permanganate, and two millilitres of 25 per cent ferric chloride for removing Arsenic. In an hour or two, the solid iron sediments settle down together with Arsenic. The treated water is then poured into the sand-gravel filter, thus, making it safer to drink.

Making of Arsiron Nilogon

Dr Dutta identified three key elements – baking soda, potassium permanganate, and ferric chloride – for building Arsiron Nilogon. All of them are easily available and inexpensive. Cooking soda creates a favourable condition for the removal of Arsenic. While the ferric chloride gives iron oxide coagulation, which absorbs Arsenic and settles at the bottom, solid manganese dioxide formed from potassium permanganate catalyses the conversion of complex Arsenic into an easily removable form in addition to supplying oxygen for the conversion.

Dr Dutta grew up with a keen interest in solving grassroots problems through science. During his tenure as a professor at Tezpur University, he worked around the methods to detect fluoride in water. It was in the early 2000s that he came across the massive problem of Arsenic contamination in groundwater. “WHO recommends a permissible limit of 0.01 mg/litre for Arsenic in drinking water. However, the amount was much higher, which resulted in health problems. I decided to do something about this,” says a resolute Dutta.

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He began his research work on Arsenic in the year 2005. However, it took him five long years to fully develop the technologies for Arsenic and Iron removal. Moreover, he was keen on designing an affordable solution that could cleanse the contaminated water for the local citizens of Assam. Besides, the shortage of adequate funds and infrastructure were some of the challenges that hindered the progress of Arsiron Nilogon.

Reaching the masses

Dr Dutta presented his method of filtration to the funding government agency (DST). They insisted on him conducting a field trial. After producing convincingly good results during trials in the two villages of Assam, the government agency finally sanctioned funds to organize national workshops and educate locals on the efficiency of the DIY filter. Dr Robin Dutta had conducted 100s of workshops and training programs in Assam to popularise the filter among the masses. He shared, “Initially, people were reluctant to adopt the idea of a DIY filter to obtain safe drinking water. But with time, they got the hang of it.”

Dr Robin Dutta from Tezpur University designed a DIY Filter, Arsiron Nilogon, that removes toxic elements such as Arsenic and Iron from water for just 1 paisa/ litre

Dutta never planned to make money out of his innovation. “I grew up with a communist mindset. So, my inclination has always been towards building things for the community,” he shared. He patented his filtration technology in 2017 and is not looking forward to tying with industry collaborations. “Giving exclusive rights to a company might affect the way I want this innovation to solve grassroots problems and reach common people,” concludes Dutta. He believes that we must rely on surface water to fulfil our needs. However, in its absence, we must follow certain methods to purify groundwater before consumption.

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