Use of Bone Char for the Removal of Arsenic and Uranium from Groundwater at the Pine Ridge Reservation

EPA Grant Number: SU835069
Title: Use of Bone Char for the Removal of Arsenic and Uranium from Groundwater at the Pine Ridge Reservation
Investigators: Werth, Charles J , Becraft, Jacob , Dam, Emily Van , Feeney, Connor , Freeck, Jason , Genchanok, Yana , Llewellyn, Alex , Miller, Adam , Morton, Jeremy , Nell, Marika , Nguyen, Tien-Hung , Parker, Kimberly M , Salvatore, Michelle , Steege, Eden , Wang, Hanting
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , Oglala Lakota College
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2011 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2011) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is the poorest reservation in the country. While some homes on the reservation receive treated municipal water, many residents rely on private wells. A U. S. Geological Survey report in the 1990s revealed that much of the groundwater on the reservation contains arsenic (As) and uranium (U) above Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant limits. Acting on this information, members of the Oglala Lakota College contacted The Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS) at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign. An undergraduate student team was subsequently formed to address the problem and verified this concern during a trip to the Reservation in August of 2009, and again in November of 2010. The objective of this work is to continue the development of a bone char filter that can be used to efficiently remove As and U from groundwater, and implement the design at the Pine Ridge Reservation.


A variety of methods are available to remove these metals from drinking water, but most are relatively expensive, require an expert to maintain, or do not make use of indigenous materials. Absorbent biomaterials, such as bone char, present a novel and sustainable approach to remove As and U from drinking water. While bone char has been shown to efficiently adsorb As and U from water, the efficiency of removal depends on local water conditions and bone char characteristics. Preliminary research suggests that the As found in the groundwater at the Reservation is As(III), the more mobile and harder to remove As species, and that it must be oxidized to As(V) for proper removal using bone char. Oxidation methods that can be safely incorporated into a filter will be investigated, and the bone char filter design will be standardized by conducting flow through tests. In addition, a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) will be completed on the bone char filter to compare its relative environmental impact with the currently available reverse osmosis filter.

Expected Results:

Using bench scale U removal capacity data with bone char, a preliminary point-of-use filter was developed using theoretical calculations. The design specifications were completed for the filter, and the manufacturing of the preliminary filter is currently underway. Through LCA, it was determined quantitatively that the proposed filter is a better fit in the long run for the planet than a reverse osmosis filter in eight out of nine categories tested. A bone char filter designed to remove arsenic will be investigated as well. Once the design is developed, implementation at the Pine Ridge Reservation will begin, and the overall effectiveness of the filter will be assessed. Through this, the team looks to benefit the reservation through improved health, economics, and education.

Relevant Websites:

calcium hydroxylapatite, hydroxyapatite, inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer, ICP-MS;

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    Use of Bone Char for the Removal of Arsenic and Uranium from Groundwater at the Pine Ridge Reservation  | Final Report