Arsenic and new tests

For the past two decades, arsenic contamination of groundwater has posed one of the most serious public health threats in the south Asian nation of Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Compounding the problem over the years has been the costly – and sometimes dangerous – methods of testing water samples.

A 2008 World Health Organization report estimated up to 70 million people in Bangladesh drink water that contains unsafe arsenic levels. Health problems associated with arsenic poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions and some types of cancers.

A researcher with the University of Ontario Institute of Institute of Technology (UOIT) is working hard to help develop a new paper-based method of testing water sources in Bangladesh that is both effective and inexpensive.

Brendan MacDonald, an Assistant Professor in UOIT’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, has been recognized for his innovative research approach with a new funding award of $112,000 from Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) through its Stars in Global Health seed grant program.

“Our research team travelled to Bangladesh for nine days at the end of April and early May, and we are getting very positive feedback for the tests we will be developing,” said MacDonald. “Field-test kits used in the past create a multi-stage reaction which can actually generate toxic chemicals. But we know paper works in medical diagnostics such as pregnancy tests. Paper is readily available, inexpensive, easy to use, disposable and does not require an external power source.”

GCC is funded by the Government of Canada and dedicated to supporting bold ideas with big impact in global health. MacDonald’s project is part of GCC’s $12 million new investment in projects worldwide, aimed squarely at improving the health and saving the lives of mothers, newborns and children in developing countries.

A simple, low-cost, paper-based test for arsenic developed by MacDonald’s project will help forewarn people when water’s arsenic content exceeds safe levels.

“We are grateful to Grand Challenges Canada for its generous support of our new approach to quickly identify contaminated water sources, a system we anticipate could be applied anywhere in the future,” said MacDonald. “We believe this is the right way to safely determine the level of arsenic in water sources, prior to human consumption.”

MacDonald is collaborating on the research with Professor Nadim Khandaker, North South University of Bangladesh.

“Our government is proud of the progress on promises Canada and other nations made as part of the Muskoka Initiative to improve the health and save the lives of women, newborns and children in the developing world,” said the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie. “By supporting innovative proof-of-concept projects and the scale-up of proven ideas, and by leveraging additional private sector knowledge and funds, a difference is being felt in health conditions in developing countries. The creation of jobs here and abroad serves as an added benefit.”

“All of the projects announced today illustrate the power of innovation to save and improve the lives of women and children,” said Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer, GCC.

“Innovation really means that tomorrow will be a brighter day than today for those who need it the most in developing nations. I salute the global leadership Canada is showing in focusing the world’s attention on saving every woman and every child.”

 

Research Matters periodically publishes multiple blog posts based on a specific theme. This story is part of a series exploring Ontario university research’s impact beyond Canada’s borders. Some stories originally appeared in individual university’s publications, and are republished here with permission.

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Let shopping be your ...

Noreen Fagan | December 18, 2014

Here’s a fun fact – Canadians eat more sushi than the Japanese. At least that’s what Mark Cleveland says, and he should know. Cleveland is a professor of marketing at Western University. His research focuses on the integration of cultures on a global scale and the effects of cosmopolitanism, which according to Cleveland is, “the cultural openness and the ability to successfully navigate between different cultural groups.” In other words, people who want to understand and experience other cultures do so by fully immersing themselves in that culture. “You want to live the life of cultural authenticity, by trying to understand the culture through that culture’s eyes,” he says. Cleveland’s interest in cultural openness started when he was a Master’s and then a Ph.D. student at Concordia University in Montreal. He started researching how new immigrants, primarily ethic minorities, adapted to Canadian culture by finding ways to combine their traditional identities, culture and values into mainstream society. “I have always believed that just because you learn another culture does not mean you give up the original culture. You can be bicultural or multicultural and the two can reinforce each other,” says Cleveland. “Not only are minorities affected by cultural exchange but the majority are as well.” Canada’s multiculturalism prompted Cleveland to extend his research into globalization, with a focus on how global cultures affect majority populations around the world. In the last decade Cleveland has conducted research in 15 to 20 countries exploring cultural exchange and cosmopolitanism. He says a person no longer has to travel abroad – although it helps – to become cosmopolitan. A person can experience different cultures in the comfort of their own home or neighbourhood, simply by watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing videos on You Tube or buying and consuming different products. “When we buy products, and types of brands and the reasons for buying them, they are like extensions of ourselves,” he says. So how do the sushi–eating Canadians fit into all of this? Cleveland believes if a person wants to experience cultural authenticity they will gear their shopping towards achieving that aim. In other words, a person is not going to go for the North American version of sushi (think Californian Roll), when they can get the real thing – think Unagi. He says there is probably a general global trend towards cultural openness as people become more educated and have more exposure to other cultures but he warns, there is another side. “A lot of people are really opposed to what is happening with Globalization and they see their culture as under threat,” says Cleveland adding that the threat is heightened when people feel insecure. If people are feeling secure in their surroundings (financially, emotionally and physically), the more open they are to cultural exchange and the more cosmopolitan they become. Being cosmopolitan however, does not mean buying local is a thing of the past; in fact what makes cosmopolitans stand out is that they strive for cultural authenticity. “The more cosmopolitan you are means you are not only interested in preserving differences but also interested in the environment, like getting the best locally,” says Cleveland. In terms of cosmopolitanism Cleveland thinks Canadians are more accepting of other cultures. “We are a new country, most of us go back two or three generations and have one or two grandparents born somewhere else. We have a more fluid identity,” he says, adding that as large cities go, Toronto is well integrated. “We are not just living in these areas dominated by our own ethic group, there are more opportunities to mix, and I think that allows us to become more open-minded.”

Northbound tourists

Patchen Barss | December 17, 2014

For more than a decade, Lakehead University’s Margaret Johnston has studied travel in polar regions. These days, she’s occupied with the transformation of northern tourism. read more »

A miraculous trip for ...

Carleton University staff |

While on a 2011 research trip to North Western Saudi Arabia, Carleton University Religion student, Anik Laferriere was exploring a remote part of the Ḥismā sand desert in North-West Arabia. This desert is home to the mystical and isolated temple of al-Ruwāfa. She stumbled on something extraordinary… Ruwāfa is a small, well preserved second-century structure that is a one-off in the vastness of the North-West desert of Arabia. Despite being close to water supplies (but little else), there is no evidence of any substantial human settlement at the site. Why this temple was built in such a seemingly impractical area has been a point of debate amongst researchers for a very long time. Astoundingly, the obscure location of this temple is only one aspect of its exceptionality. Even more remarkable are five Greek and Nabataean inscriptions that describe the structure as being constructed during the reign Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. These inscriptions make the temple a dramatic attestation of Roman interaction in the Middle East. While inspecting the site in 2011, Laferriere tripped over a castaway stone. As she collected her belongings, she instinctively took a look at the culprit. She noticed a Greek inscription on the stone. Naturally, she shouted to her trusted colleague, mentor, and traveling companion, Greg Fisher, a professor from Carleton’s College of Humanities. Laferriere and Fisher analyzed the stone, and were quick to note its unusual Roman markings. Little did they know, this rock would unlock a missing piece of an archeological puzzle that has baffled al-Ruwāfa researchers for more than a half-century. Later, Fisher was editing a contribution for his new book Arabs and Empires Before Islam from one of the world’s foremost epigraphy experts, Michael C.A. Macdonald. Only then did he realize that he and Laferriere might have literally stumbled on a profound discovery. In the draft of his contribution to Fisher’s book, Macdonald wrote about a lost inscribed stone that was last seen in 1956/7, when celebrated British explorer, St. John Philby, had copied it. In Macdonald’s research, he included a note that Philby had drawn of the stone. Its current location, though, was a mystery. Fisher recalled the Ruwāfa stone. It matched Macdonald’s description . “The discovery of the 'lost stone' was very exciting," said Fisher. "a completely new edition of the Ruwāfa inscriptions was prepared for my book. Michael Macdonald had only the drawing made by Philby in 1957. We realized that in my stash of photos was something quite exciting,” said Fisher. Fisher and Laferriere were likely the first two people to realize the whereabouts of the stone in decades. “The serendipity of the discovery seems incredible to me,” said Laferriere. “We were unaware at the time that it held any significance whatsoever, except as an example of Roman presence in the area. When we found out, we could not believe our luck!” Thanks to the meticulous assistance of Macdonald, they were confirmed in 2014 that the impression found by Laferriere and Fisher was indeed Philby’s lost stone. Referred as “Inscription III,” it is the third of five Greek and Nabataean Ruwāfa inscriptions that serve as attestation to Roman interest in Saudi Arabia. The set of inscriptions refer to the erection of the temple of al-Ruwāfa by a group of people called Thamud. This nomadic tribe had encountered the Assyrians in the late eighth century, BC and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and co-emperor Lucius Verus. The long-lost third engraving mentions of Verus who died in 169, meaning that the inscription was forged prior to this date. All inscriptions, save Inscription III, are currently displayed in the Riyadh museum. The artifact has sparked many new questions about the site, the historical significance it holds, and how it will shape our understanding of early Roman political and diplomatic interest in the Arabian Peninsula. Fisher’s forthcoming book, (Oxford University Press 2015), will address these questions, and include a new reading of the group of inscriptions by Macdonald. The text will be accompanied by new drawings of the temple. Arabs and Empires Before Islam will function as the most up-to-date version of this influential inscription and will offer readers a the most complete version of this important testament ever. Fisher hopes that this miraculous series of events will remind burgeoning researchers that unearthing the past is not always predictable. “From the perspective of a teacher, the discovery shows students that while the material is most certainly ancient, new discoveries can and do happen all the time – and sometimes, quite by accident,” said Fisher.   This story was originally published by Carleton University. It has been edited for style, length and clarity, and is republished here with permission. 

Dark tourism: the kitsch ...

Patchen Barss | December 16, 2014

“Dark tourism” draws travelers to sites where murder, torture and genocide took place. As part of his research, Guelph marketing professor Brent McKenzie grapples with the balance between authentic experience and exploitation. read more »

Here comes the sun ...

Deborah Durbin | December 13, 2014

As Canadians watched more than two metres of snow fall on Buffalo, NY in one week this past November, many started planning their winter escape to warmer climates. read more »
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