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Prize-winning chemistry prof gives business talk

March 6, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A chemistry professor who won a $1 million prize for discovering a simple and inexpensive means of filtering potentially deadly arsenic from well water is coming to Western Michigan University.

Dr. Abul Hussam, a George Mason University chemistry professor and winner of the 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability, will speak from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday, March 13, in Room 1120 of Schneider Hall, home of the Haworth College of Business. His talk, part of the business college's Global Lecture Series, is titled "Appropriate Technology: Making a Difference in People's Lives."

Hussam's finding is credited with preventing serious health problems in hundreds of thousands of people in his native Bangladesh and could help millions of others around the world. He came to the United States in 1978 as a college teaching assistant and earned his citizenship and a doctoral degree in analytical chemistry.

Hassam has devoted much of his career to finding a simple solution to a very large problem accidentally caused when international aid agencies funded widespread well digging in Bangladesh and eastern India. The wells brought fresh groundwater to the surface for millions of subsistence farmers, who for many years had been drinking from unsanitary ponds and mudholes. But the agencies didn't realize that groundwater in the region has some of the highest concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in the world.

The wells sharply reduced the spread of infectious diseases, but also brought about an epidemic of arsenic-related skin ailments and even fatal cancers of the lungs, bladder and kidneys over time. Hassam's family had two of the now infamous shallow wells, but did not become ill.

The Grainger Prize is administered by the National Academy of Engineering.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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