Danger of Sono Filter in Bangladesh

Why we need arsenic removing filters when there are other alternatives

sono filterWe have raised critical questions about your sono filter,because of the disposal method of the arsenic-laden wastes it generates. The wastes are potentially dangerous and will cause more harm than good for the current and future generations of Bangladesh. We requested you several times to share with us geological, hydrological, hydrogeological, geochemical and hydro-meteorological data that support your arsenic wastes disposal method in Bangladesh. We also provided you with some case studies of US arsenic contaminated sites regarding the danger of indiscriminate disposal of arsenic wastes. You have not presented any data instead of our repeated requests and you have been providing incorrect data and explanation in public gatherings and news media regarding the arsenic waste of your filter and arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh.

We think your disregard for the environmental future of Bangladesh has resulted from your either pursuance to promote the Sono filter as the best filter in the world or you utter ignorance of the geology, hydrology, hydrogeology, geochemistry and hydro-meteorology of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that you are misinterpreting TCLP data in support of your filter. We explained to you why your TCLP data interpretation is not correct. You did not pay any heed to our call, instead you are strongly publicizing your Sono filter as the best filter in the world, that the sono filter does not generate any toxic waste and the arsenic waste disposal on the open ground is safe.

On June 21, 2007 in your article entitled "Arsenic Free Clean Water and Sustainable Local Technology" a paper for Asiatic society you firmly claiming that "Residue management: Leaching of spent sand, CIM, charcoal, and brickette by TCLP (toxic characterestic Leaching Procedure-EPA procedure) and TALP (Total Available Leaching Procedure-European Union Procedure) with groundwater at pH 4, pH 7, and in Bangladesh rain water (pH 5) shows less than 16 ug/L (ICP detection limit data) arsenic, which is 300 times lower than US-EPA limit. The NAE-Grainger tests have identified the used active CIM as "non detectable and non hazardous (limit 0.50 mg/L)". This new limit is ten fold lower than EPA's previous limit of 5.0 mg/L. Arsenic in used sand and CIM, is in the oxidized form and firmly bound with insoluable solid CIM. This is a self contained naturally occurring compound in the earths crust. It is almost like disposing soil on soil. Spent materials can be disposed in the open to maintain oxidizing condition where it remains immobilized like that in soil. The SONO innovation is a "green process" in true sense of term.

Recently, the filtration technology is given the highest award from the national Academy of Engineering-Grainger Challenge Prize for sustainability after fifteen other competitor technologies. NAE has recognized this innovative technology for its affordability, reliability, ease of maintenance, social acceptability, and environmental friendliness, which met or exceeded the local government's guidelines for arsenic removal." On August 8, 2007, The Daily Star of Bangladesh in the article"Kustia Villagers Gets Sono Filters" reported that "The filter was approved by the World Health Organization(WHO), the Bangladesh govt, and the local Bureau of Isotope Hydrology Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).The govt. okayed it following various scientific tests including ETV-AM (Environmental Testing and verification programme for arsenic Mitigation, innovators said".

We understand that the Bangladesh govt., WHO and EVT approved your filter, but wanted to know from you whether they approved your above mentioned arsenic waste disposal method or not? We want to see the detailed data and analysis/explanation that convinced them to approve your arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh. The data and explanation that you presented in support of your arsenic waste disposal method are not based on sound scientific data and evidences. This is a serious scientific issue and we must know whether your arsenic waste disposal method is environmentally safe or not. As members of scientific community and promoters of sono filter you should have been provided us with the requested information a long time ago.

We also would like to inform you that according to National Academy of Engineering(NAE)/Grainger Challenge Prize,2007, Award technical criteria #3 & 4, your Sono filter is not "Environmental friendly, rather the arsenic waste disposal system would create more environmental problems in Bangladesh. The Technical Criteria and the technical Performance section clearly revealed that "The principal metrics of performance which will be used by the judges are (1) technical performance, that is, the ability of the system to provide sufficient quantities of water at 50 µg/L or less of total As, over an extended period of time, (2) the ability to be able to provide water at an affordable cost, considering initial capital and maintenance costs, (3) the ability to be able to collect and dispose of spent residues containing As in a safe and cost effective manner, and (4) that the system be user friendly, convenient to use, easy to maintain and is sustainable over many years."

According to NAE's above mentioned technical criteria, you were supposed to collect and dispose spent residues containing arsenic from SONO filter in a safe and cost effective manner, instead you are advising your clients and others for dumping arsenic wastes on the ground and other low lying areas.

On June 3, 2007 in response to our request, you informed us that "I have given many scientific presentations on SONO filter in front of world class environmental engineers and chemists. Some of their qestions were more critical than yours. SONO was finally evaluated by a 10 member committee of the topmost experts in the USA in this field arranged by the National Academy of Engineering- Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability. The TNAE has tested our composite iron matrix active material at a national EPA lab and found no arsenic leached from the spent material and characterized as "non detectable and non hazardous" by the TCLP. That means they have not detected (less than 1 parts per billion) arsenic even with the most sophisticated analytical techniques. They looked at all the aspects including disposal issues extremely thoroughly before awarding the first prize. Please note that SONO was selected over some of the best technologies from top companies and engineering institutions in this country."

Your above information clearly contradict with NAE's technical performance criteria #3 & 4, the most important factors of the Grainger Challenge Prize, 2007. We certainly know that the disposal of arsenic waste from the Sono filters on the ground, in the lakes, rivers, ponds and other low lying areas areas will create air pollution, contaminate soil and sediments, surface and groundwater resources, aquatic organisms such as bottom dwelling fishes, agricultural products, ecosystem and the environment of Bangladesh. In other words, your Sono filters waste will create several new man-made disasters in Bangladesh. We are surprised and shocked that you do not understand the impacts of indiscriminate disposal of arsenic waste in Bangladesh.

Your above explanation regarding Sono filter's arsenic waste and waste disposal method appear to be unscientific and not based on sound scientific data and evidences. We want to know from you the scientific basis and detail data and explanation that the World Health Organization(WHO), the Bangladesh govt, and the local Bureau of Isotope Hydrology Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and National Academy of Engineering(NAE) used for the approval of Sono filter's waste disposal method in Bangladesh. We think we have a right to know from you and you have a great responsibility to provide us with factual scientific data and evidences that support your waste disposal method in Bangladesh. The Sono filter is certainly causing more harm than good to the entire nation of Bangladesh and thus threatening the entire civilization of Bengal delta.

If you do not agree with our opinion regarding your Sono filter and it's waste disposal method in Bangladesh, we challenge your expertise and requesting you to present sound scientific data and evidences that support your arsenic waste disposal method. If you do not and/or are not able to present sound scientific data and evidences in support of your above mentioned arsenic waste disposal method, we are respectfully requesting you to abandon your filter immediately. We also request you that you should not produce, distribute and sell any Sono filter until you can prove that your arsenic waste disposal method is environmentally safe in Bangladesh.

If you do not share the requested data with us within two to three weeks, then we would requests NAE, govt. of Bangladesh, WHO and others for the re-evaluation of Sono filter and it's arsenic waste disposal method in Bangladesh.

Meer Husain, P.G. Professional Geologist, And Kansas Dept. of Health & Environment, Wichita, Kansas, USA, September 2007.

Dear Dr. Hussam:


I had the pleasure of attending your presentation on SONO ARSENIC FILTER that you are manufacturing and selling at a price of around taka 5,000 per piece to the rural Bangladeshi citizen. During the presentation you showed two hand pumped tube wells only 20 feet apart – one producing arsenic contaminated water and the other free of arsenic. These are in Kushtia, in your home town and as a matter of fact you claimed these are in your homestead property. You also showed some pictures of tube wells that are in Bheramara area abstracting arsenic laden water.

I lived in Kushtia from 1961 to 1975. First in Bheramara, close to the place you took the picture of the tube well that has arsenic. Later, I moved to head office in Kushtia town and lived there. I and my family drank water from hand pumps exactly like the one you showed in your power point presentation. I was a water management and agricultural engineering extension specialist and traveled extensively assisting the rural poor farmers and general population on water issues including irrigation. I personally did not develop any symptoms related to arsenic poisoning. I also did not see any such cases in rural areas. I was socially active and was one time chair of Kushtia Shahitya Parishad. I was also a member of Rotary club. Members of the medical community of Kushtia, such as Drs. Tofazzal Hussain, Abul Qasem, Boni Amin, Akhter Banu, and Rafiq Chowdhury, etc were involved in our social groups; besides dramatist Kallyan Mitra, publisher Waliul Bari Chowdhury and others. We used to organize medical help clinics. But, I never heard from them anything about arsenic poisoning in Kushtia during my stay.

According to your presentation it takes about 8 to 10 years for the poisoning symptoms to appear. The first symptoms of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh were evident in late eighties (1986-89). It is interesting to note that this happens to be exactly ten years after the withdrawal of water from Ganges by using the Farakka Barrage in India starting 1975 - the time I moved out of Kushtia. The ten years of latent period after 1975 was also the period when rapid expansion of shallow tube wells for irrigation occurred affecting the shallow water table.

When I pointed out this matter you categorically denied that the upstream withdrawal of river water and rapid fluctuation of shallow ground water level has anything to do with the release of arsenic from the arsenic bearing underground formation. This type of comment is dangerous and misleading. Your scientific background does not equip you with the knowledge to make such a sweeping remark – it appears to me that you are using your recently found fame to mislead people.

As regards my own health your comment was more confusing. You said that my protein rich diet helped me overcome arsenic poisoning. According to you this was because some kind of methylation process helped by protein rich diet removed arsenic from my body and at the same breath you mentioned that it is the methyl radical that causes most harm in a body. According to you, arsenic poisoning is the poor man’s plague. So you are helping these poor people by selling SONO FILTERS at a price of taka 5,000 each that produces enough drinking water for a family of four.

You also mentioned about an old adage of village folks that says “Paanee Bashi Koray Khaben” – that is "Drink water that sat overnight". You mentioned that the ionic form of arsenic that is poisonous is very transitory and that is why it is not possible to create arsenic water in a lab for replicated study. So the old adage works. It is the freshly abstracted water which is poisonous when ingested fresh. You agreed that water from dug wells that is from “KOOA or INDARA” is still very safe based on this principle. My question to you is why we need arsenic removing filters when there are other alternatives. Why bring arsenic laden water to the surface and contaminate our land and water resources making it dangerous for the future generation. The wells that are found to be contaminated should be abandoned, closed and sealed. It is easy to control a point source of contamination. You showed that a well sunk as close as 20 feet may be free of arsenic. Why not make a national program to support rural people to find that well and abandon the one that is contaminated.

Many scientists around the world has opposed to your promoting of arsenic filter for a valid scientific reason. Arsenic filter wastes and spent up iron filings that has adsorbed the poisonous arsenic will eventually release arsenic back into environment when disposed off in surrounding grounds. This release will be further enhanced in a hydrated warm environment of Bangladesh. The technique of removing arsenic using iron filings was known to scientists, but none has promoted it commercially for the fear of contaminating environment and creating a dangerous environmental hazard. Is commercialism driving your penchant for promoting SONO FILTER? You are engaging singers and performers who roam around villages entertaining and promoting SONO filters. Are you not deceiving the poor people and at the same time destroying their environment? Not only that their posterity will suffer more severely, you are spreading the poison to effect people far and wide.

You also mentioned that it is difficult to analyse arsenic ion, especially the poisonous species. In Bangladesh, according to you, there are four atomic adsorption analyser that could be used to help people to have their water analysed for arsenic. But nobody knows how to use them and these are just sitting. On the contrary, your SONO Lab is well equipped to analyze water in Kushtia to trace elements in concentration as low as in part per billions. However, you did not show us the Atomic Adsorption analyser that you are using in Kushtia.

In conclusion, I would urge you to join forces with people who suggested alternative methods of providing water to rural population and lend hand to find out the root cause of arsenic release from underground formations. I would appreciate your response. With best regards. Thank you. Mahbub Alam, Ph.D. Professor, Kansas State University USA (September 28, 2007)

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