Access to clean, safe drinking water has been recognised by the United Nations as a human right, yet millions still don't have it. Middlesex University is at the vanguard of finding ways to ensure more people have access to safe water and the University's Professor Hemda Garelick is leading a major project investigating arsenic pollution in water and ways of tackling it. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry project studies remediation technologies for the removal of arsenic from water and wastewater, allowing communities to safely rely on their local water supply again.
Arsenic pollution, a significant cause of contamination in urban and rural water supplies worldwide, came to light in Bangladesh in the late 1980s after Unicef and the World Health Organisation provided tube wells that pumped water up and out of the ground. When people began showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning, it wasn't immediately clear where it had come from. Research discovered that arsenic traces in the rock were a major threat to human health.
Professor Garelick explains: "We started looking at how to remove arsenic and detoxify it looking at different media, not just drinking water but for use in other ways. Hopefully it will help people have clean drinking water. We take a multi-disciplinary approach to looking at problems. It's not enough to provide a technical solution. We need to understand the way people will use it or accept it and look at other contributing factors such as social circumstances or wealth."
The research at Middlesex has included the investigation of specific remediation technologies based on absorption processes and a critical review of the available processes for remediation and mitigation.
Another major concern for global human health is a growing resistance to antibiotics. Professor Garelick is a pioneer in the field, having pointed out 20 years ago that there could be a serious issue with the drugs being passed into the environment, particularly through water, waste water and food.
She explains: "I proposed that there could be a problem in the environment taking lots of antibodies and then excreting them. Bacteria become resistant, which means you can't kill them and people will start dying. We don't know the effect of antibiotics and genes that carry the resistance and don't know the effect on the environment. For that, we need dedicated research."
Professor Garelick is a member of DARE (Detecting Antibiotic Resistance in Europe) and her department's work helps the EU body identify environmental hotspots for antibiotic resistance The research is crucial as an increasing resistance to drugs used to fight diseases such as bacterial pneumonia, typhoid and infections such as septicaemia could be a catastrophe. "Only a few new antibiotics have been developed in the last decade and a further evolution of resistance poses a serious threat to public health," says Professor Garelick. "The world has been late in recognising this problem. But we're working hard to make sure that it does."