Water, the compound necessary for sustaining life on planet Earth, is often taken for granted, especially on Long Island, which is surrounded by bodies of water in every direction. While it is used everyday for a number of purposes, many may not realize that the water supply, on a local, national and worldwide scale, is in danger due to heavy metal contamination.
One Jericho High School Student, Rohan Basavaraju, is working to prevent and eliminate the presence of such contaminants through his environmental group AQUASORB.
“Even in trace amounts, heavy metal is a very serious and critical issue,” said Basavaraju. “It’s correlated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases, cancers, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, just to name a few.”
Founded last summer by Basavaraju, the group, consisting of other Jericho High School students with a shared passion for the environment, has been working to research and develop scientific technologies that will eliminate heavy metal contaminants, like lead, nickel, copper, zinc and chromium, through an adsorption process.
Heavy metal contamination is the result of a number of causes, the primary one on Long Island being stormwater runoff. This runoff may contain chromium, from the tires on vehicles, or other soluble particles and compounds from construction sites, illegal dumping and spills and pesticide application. It can also result from the improper disposal of everyday technologies such as cell phones and other electronics, which contain nickel.
Once heavy metals have permeated the water supply, a way to extract it is through an adsorption process, in which a substance such as an ion or atom chemically binds to the surface of a different material, which is what Basavaraju and his AQUASORB team are primarily focused on.
Current adsorbents used for water treatments, like activated carbon and carbon nanotubes, are impractical for large scale water treatment as a result of their relative higher cost.
Basavaraju, in an effort to use materials that are both cost-effective and safe, is making use of casein, a milk protein that is relatively cheap and easily accessible. Further, this protein can be dissolved in water to further increase the efficiency. The AQUASORB team has been conducting research and trials to determine the optimal casein preparation.
This novel idea is unprecedented, making Basavaraju and his creative clan of visionaries the first to do anything of this kind. He has applied for provisional patent in hopes that it will allow them to expand their research and eventually reach a wider audience.
AQUASORB’s original water treatment technology has already impressed the likes of many, including Long Island Water Conference Superintendent Stan Carey and Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District Conservation Technician David Ganim. They are currently talking with the Nassau County Cornell University Cooperative Extension Executive Director Gregory Sandor to discuss the problems of water contamination and what locales can do to help.
The group also believes that change begins with education, which is why they continue to create a series of informative videos that explain how to easily create environmentally friendly products such as paint, detergent, shampoo and all purpose cleaners.
“We’re the future, we’re the ones going to dictate the direction of our planet,” said an impassioned Basavaraju. “If we don’t take action who will? We must be the ones to engineer the future treatments to provide clean water for generations to come.”
On Monday, March 6, AQUASORB presented their adsorbent technology to a panel of judges at the Lexus Eco Challenge, a contest in which student teams tackle environmental issues related to land, water, air, and climate, and create practical solutions.
The Land and Water Challenge is first, followed by an Air and Climate Challenge. The Jericho team, consisting of Basavaraju, Brandon Xie, Brian Sang, Mansi Vohra, Emma Gan, Benjamin Wong and James Kim, competed in the Land and Water Challenge and finished first in the regionals, winning $10,000. The team then moved on to the next round finishing first place nationally earning $15,000.
For more information about AQUASORB and the work the group is doing, visit www.aquasorb.weebly.com.