July 28, 2005

Sandia begins arsenic removal demonstration project in Anthony, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A pilot plant to evaluate commercially available technologies for removing arsenic from municipal drinking water supplies will begin operating in mid-August in Anthony, N.M.

The project is based on a memorandum of understanding between Sandia National Laboratories and Desert Sands Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association (MDWCA). Commercial vendors have supplied Sandia with a variety of arsenic-removal products for evaluation at the pilot plant.

The project is in response to the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for Arsenic issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. This regulation states that the public health standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.010 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Public water systems must comply with the 10 ppb standard beginning Jan. 23, 2006. The current maximum contaminant level for arsenic in drinking water is 50 ppb.

"The strict arsenic standards that take effect in 2006 are placing a tremendous burden on rural communities that simply can't afford to meet the standard," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., says. "We are investing in scientific expertise at Sandia to try to develop technologies that will allow the standards to be met in the most cost-effective manner."

The Arsenic Water Technology Partnership supports the project with Congressional funding through the Department of Energy's Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Sen. Domenici has secured the funding for this initiative since 2003 as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

The partnership includes Sandia, the Awwa Research Foundation (an international, nonprofit organization that sponsors research to enable water utilities to provide safe and affordable drinking water), and WERC (a consortium for environmental education and technology development).

The Lab's work is done as part of the Sandia Water Initiative. The initiative's primary objectives are to increase the safety, security, and sustainability of the water supply infrastructure through the development of advanced technologies that create new water supplies, decrease demand through water-use efficiency, and provide decision-informing tools to the institutions responsible for balancing supply and demand.

Development of new arsenic removal technologies is the responsibility of AwwaRF. Sandia's role is to pilot promising new technologies from the commercial or academic sectors. WERC will evaluate the economic feasibility of new technologies and transfer information to the water utilities.

The Arsenic Water Technology Partnership seeks to enable water utilities, particularly those serving small rural communities and Indian tribes, to implement the most cost-effective solutions to their arsenic treatment needs. More information about the partnership is available at

New Mexico has a particularly high number of communities affected by the new arsenic standard. Hence, the initial arsenic removal pilot plant projects are located in New Mexico (another pilot plant is operating at Socorro New Mexico). Other pilot plants will go on line later in New Mexico and other regions of the country.

"There are several competing arsenic removal technologies on the market," says Paul McConnell, a Sandia staff member. "The pilot plant project provides for an unbiased comparison of the effectiveness of the commercial options for arsenic removal. These results should be very useful to municipal water systems decision makers."

The Anthony pilot will focus on the use of adsorbents, natural or man-made materials that have been designed for the purpose of removing arsenic and other contaminants. The arsenic-removal materials are packed into columns through which untreated water flows. The arsenic is adsorbed by the material and the water comes out nearly arsenic free. Systems can be large enough to treat enough drinking water for large communities or can be small enough to sit under a kitchen sink.

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Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia has major R& D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia media contact: Chris Burroughs,, (505) 844-0948

Sandia technical contact: Malcolm Siegel,, (505) 844-5426, Geochemistry Department, Geoscience and Environment Center, Energy, Information & Infrastructure Surety Division, Sandia National Laboratories