LU News Archive

Food waste helps clean drinking water

Shyam ShuklaUsing orange and banana peels and several other waste materials, Shyam Shukla, who has taught at Lamar University for 28 years as an analytical and environmental chemistry professor, has unearthed a method to utilize several types of wastes in purifying contaminated drinking water, with the help of his research team.

His research team includes Kenneth Dorris, a Lamar professor who teaches physical chemistry, Alka Shukla, a chemistry professor at Houston Community College, as well as Andrew Gomes, a Lamar research associate professor, who has recently joined the team.

Originally from Lucknow, India, Shukla witnessed firsthand the lack of quality drinking water available in poverty-stricken areas.

“I examined where they got the water from, and the consequences of drinking the poor quality water,” Shukla said. “Children are our future and by children drinking this water, our future is being destroyed.”

At the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Indianapolis, the world’s largest scientific society, Shukla and his research team’s most recent findings on using banana-peel powder to remove lead and other potentially toxic metals from water, were recognized.

“The recognition by the ACS is very encouraging that we have done something worthwhile,” Shukla said. “The greatest reward is saving lives potentially, and spreading this useful knowledge to others.”

Shukla with the help of a research team, including professors as well as graduate and undergraduate students, established a method they refer to as the “L-3 Solution”- low cost, low tech, and locally available.

For the past 23 years, Shukla and his research team have tested materials to employ as toxic metal ion filters, removing metals like lead, which has been demonstrated to cause kidney disease and lower the IQ of young children, and chromium, which can impair liver function and affect human reproduction.

Shukla“Through various forms of human activity, such as electronic waste, pesticides, pharmaceutical waste, and even the lead found in gasoline, toxic metals and organics infiltrate the water supply,” Shukla said. “The toxic metals then get adsorbed to the water. These toxic metals, that are incredibly harmful at small levels, enter the human body, but they almost never leave. They continue to cause lasting damage, and are particularly harmful to children, who have a lower tolerance level.”

In the beginning stages of research, Shukla and the research team tested materials such as sawdust and crab shell; however, these materials were not useful in removing metal ions from water.

About 10 years ago, Shukla discovered the key to sequestering toxic metals: using bio-wastes such as orange and banana peels.

“Foods such as oranges and bananas are abundant in other areas and therefore accessible to those that suffer from poor quality water,” Shukla said.

ShuklaConsidered one of the most heavily consumed fruits in the world, bananas and oranges have the potential to create a major agro-waste problem when peels are disposed in the trash. However, studies have shown that banana peels, as well as orange peels, contain pectin polysaccharides that act as adsorbents, meaning toxic metal ions found in the water can adhere to the surface of another material. Therefore, banana peel powder, BPP, has the ability to sequester toxic metal ion such as barium, silver, cadmium, lead, and nickel, from aqueous solutions.

For the study, the researchers placed ions from metals identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous drinking-water contaminants, such as lead, nickel, and silver, in distilled water. Researchers then placed the BPP in the solution of distilled water and metal ions, and were amazed by the results.

“In five to eight minutes, metal ions were removed using one tea-bag of powder,” Shukla said. “Metals such as lead were removed from the water by 91 percent. It was quite impressive.”

To utilize the clarifying water power of the banana or orange peel, it can either be used as a powder encapsulated like tea in a tea bag or used as a fresh peel. However, grinding the powder enhances the efficiency and allows the material to be stored for a long time.

“Put the powder into the water, or use the powder in the form of a teabag,” Shukla said. “The toxic metals cling to the teabag and 5-10 minutes later, the water is safer to drink.”

Now, Shukla and his research team are working on the next stage of purifying contaminated water, dealing specifically with “Stage Two,” organics, such as removing pharmaceutical waste from the water.

“We are attempting to make a water treatment process with the construction and design of a water treatment tower that will have the ability to filter water through materials such as sand, gravel and clay,” Shukla said. “This is both low-cost and low-tech.”

TestingResearch associate professor Andrew Gomes points out that this new knowledge is not just beneficial for those living in foreign countries, but also for people here at home.

“Toxic metals are found everywhere not just in impoverished nations,” Gomes said. “The side effects of these toxic metals are severe, including kidney failure and mental retardation. Although metal exists in the waters here; fortunately, the traces of metal found in the water here are below the legal limits.”

Shukla hopes to soon complete a prototype to perform all 3 stages of water treatment ready for the public use. As the main goal of his research, Shukla hopes that this new discovery will enhance the lives that are affected by lack of clean water supply.

“This knowledge will improve health and will be a cost saving tool by reducing sickness,” Shukla said. “Instead of treating the symptoms of illnesses caused by impure water, we can stop the cause of the sickness. Most importantly, it can preserve the health of children. They have long lives ahead of them and this tool can help them lead better lives.”