Real world arsenic detection

Worldwide coloured vegetation map based on SPOT Earth satellite data

Arsenic contamination is a global issue with over 137 million people in more than 70 countries affected. Measurement of arsenic in drinking water has traditionally depended on complex and expensive laboratory tests.

Researchers at Oxford University have discovered a low-cost method of detecting arsenic that could be developed into a test to measure arsenic in the field.

Marketing opportunity

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth’s crust and a common contaminant of drinking water.

Exposure to arsenic can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including dermal changes, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, genotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects.

Arsenic contamination of drinking water has been reported globally with dangerously high levels present in eg Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, China, Ghana, Hungary, Inner Mongolia, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, the United States and Vietnam.

The World Health Organization’s recommended maximum arsenic contamination level for drinking water is 10 ppb. A particular practical issue when addressing arsenic contamination in the real world (as opposed to the academic laboratory) is the large variation in arsenic contamination levels in wells only a few metres apart.

More than 56 million Americans could be drinking tap water containing average levels of arsenic that pose unacceptable cancer risks (source: US Natural Resources Defense Council).

Laboratory based analytical procedures have previously been developed to allow detection of low levels of arsenic contamination. The development of reliable electrochemical methods suitable for the development of low cost hand-held test instruments has been hampered by the presence of other contaminants (lead, copper, zinc, iron, antimony, bismuth, selenium, silver and mercury) in real world water samples. The presence of copper as Cu(II) is the most common source of interference and has to date prevented the development of instruments for use in field testing.

The Oxford invention

Using novel modified glassy carbon electrodes, electrochemical techniques have been developed which allow determination of low levels of arsenic contamination even in samples containing high levels of Cu(II) as a co-contaminant.

This invention will enable the development of new testing low-cost devices with high sensitivity that can be directly applied in the field.

Patent status

This work is the subject of patent application, and Oxford University Innovation would like to talk to companies interested in developing the commercial opportunity that this represents.

Expertise in manufacturing low cost electronic devices is particularly sought. Request more information if you would like to discuss this further.

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