Sandia LabNews

Pilot Sandia treatment system that removes arsenic from water demonstrated at Rio Rancho well site

Pilot Sandia treatment system that removes arsenic from water demonstrated at Rio Rancho well site

New Mexico will be one of several western states severely impacted next year by new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that call for a significant reduction in the amounts of arsenic allowed in water supplies.

Some 80 communities in the state will be affected, and costs for arsenic removal in New Mexico alone are estimated at $500 million.

This is according to Peter Davies, director of Geoscience and Environment Center 6100, who was among the presenters at a news conference earlier this month at a Rio Rancho well site where a Sandia research project designed to study ways to economically resolve the arsenic problem was displayed.

On hand were Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who secured $10 million for the research project in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee; Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owen; and Sandia executives. The Rio Rancho pilot treatment system tests arsenic removal technologies supplied by a number of vendors.

The project is part of a research program designed to find simple, inexpensive ways water utilities can reduce arsenic levels from their water supplies to meet the new EPA regulations that go into effect in January 2006. The regulations require the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of arsenic in water be reduced from the current limit of 50 micrograms per liter (µg/L) to 10 µg/L.

High levels of arsenic in water are known to increase the incidence of bladder and lung cancers.

Research program sponsors are the Arsenic Water Technology Partnership — a group made up of Sandia, the Awwa Research Foundation (AwwaRF), and WERC, a consortium for environmental education and technology development.

“Removing arsenic from municipal water is a pressing problem for many New Mexico communities,’’ says Domenici. “The costs of conventional removal methods are staggering, and that’s why I worked to fund research to find more affordable ways to get arsenic out of drinking water.”

Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owen estimated that the cost for communities to meet the new EPA requirements will be about $300-$400 per household.

“When the new regulations were passed, many of us in the western states didn’t realize what it was going to mean,” Owen said at the conference. “It will hit us significantly in our pocketbooks if we are going to resolve this.”

The Rio Rancho demonstration project is the third implemented by the partnership in less than a year in New Mexico. The others are in Socorro and Anthony. More are expected to be established at other well sites around the state and outside of New Mexico in coming months by the project field team led by lead engineer Malynda Aragon and technologists Randy Everett and William Holub Jr. (both 6118).

“Types of arsenic cleanup used will vary from site to site because different communities have different water chemistries,” says Sandia project lead Malcolm Siegel (6118). “The different experiments at the multiple locations reflect those different needs.”

The Rio Rancho pilot demonstration will obtain arsenic removal performance data for six different adsorptive materials and two reverse osmosis units for a period of three to nine months.