Columbia University

Technology Ventures

Simple field test for highly accurate detection of arsenic contamination in ground water

Technology #m02-087

Arsenic is an extremely toxic ground water contaminant that poses serious health risks to exposed populations. Accurate detection and quantification of arsenic contamination is essential in curtailing its harmful effects towards at risk areas or populations affected by natural arsenic deposits or industrial pollution. This technology is a highly sensitive kit for measuring the concentration of arsenic in water samples by analyzing the degree of light absorption when reacted with suitable reagents.

Analysis of light absorption by water samples reacted with arsenic-sensitive chemicals is accurate, requires low power, and can be achieved using inexpensive off-the-shelf components

Currently available chemical field tests for detecting arsenic contamination are either insufficiently sensitive, overly complex, and/or may release toxic fumes when used. By contrast, this technology employs a colorimeter that measures infrared absorption of light to determine whether the addition of suitable reagents to a water sample produce colorful complexes indicative of the presence of arsenates. The colorimeter may be constructed using off-the-shelf electronic components and has low power requirements that can be satisfied in the field by batteries or solar power.

A prototype of the technology was successfully tested both in the laboratory and in the field in Bangladesh.

Lead Inventor:

Alexander Van Geen, Ph.D.


  • Detection and quantification of arsenic contamination in drinking water supplies
  • Detection of inorganic contaminants in waste water due to industrial pollution


  • Highly sensitive detection method capable of precisely measuring arsenic concentration
  • Simple method that requires minimal training
  • Can be constructed using relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf components
  • No toxic gaseous by-products
  • Low power requirements – can use batteries or solar power in the field

Patent information:

Patent Issued (US 7,336,362)

Patent Issued (US 7,446,874)

Tech Ventures Reference: IR M02-087