Discarded cigarette ash can help remove deadly arsenic from water, finds a new study.
While the technology for removing arsenic from water exists and is in widespread use in industrialised areas, it is expensive and impractical for rural and developing regions.
Recognising that the porous structure of cigarette ash could be better suited to this purpose, scientists decided to test it.
In a simple and inexpensive one-step method, the researchers prepared cigarette ash with a coating of aluminium oxide.
When they tested the material with contaminated ground water, they found it removed more than 96% of the arsenic, reducing its levels to below the standard set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"Because cigarette ashes are discarded in countries around the world and can be easily collected in places where public smoking is allowed, it could be part of a low-cost solution for a serious public health issue," said lead researcher Jiaxing Li in a paper that appeared in the journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research.
Scientists have been exploring the use of natural waste materials such as banana peels and rice hulls for removing arsenic from water but these so far have shown limited efficiency.
The odourless and tasteless element can cause skin discolouration, stomach pain, partial paralysis and a range of other serious health problems.