Friday, August 9, 2013

Dr. Feleke Zewge is awarded NSF PEER grant

Dr. Feleke Zewge is a professor at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), director of the National Fluorosis Mitigation Project, and a friend of and frequent collaborator with the WaTER Center. He was recently awarded an NSF PEER (Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research) grant to develop, compare, and optimize aluminum oxide based technologies for fluoride removal in the Ethiopian Rift Valley. 

Dr. Feleke (center) converses with colleagues at the 2011 OU International WaTER Conference.

During childhood bone and tooth enamel formation, high levels of fluoride intake will cause the element to substitute for more natural elements and create a more brittle, less flexible bone structure.  Beyond the cosmetic effects and social stigma of dental fluorosis (mottled teeth), which occurs at moderately elevated fluoride levels, skeletal fluorosis is evidenced at higher fluoride levels (>4 mg/L).  Skeletal fluorosis can reduce agility and mobility, impairing the ability of people to do the manual labor required of subsistence farmers and/or wage earners.  Further, select research has suggested that fluorosis impairs cognitive processes and the ability of children to learn.    Thus, fluorosis mitigation is imperative to health, education and development for the estimated 14 to 16 million Ethiopians exposed to elevated fluoride levels, especially in the Rift Valley. 

This photo shows a typical water treatment system for fluoride mitigation. From right to left can be seen the raw water storage tank, two parallel reactor tanks with filtration media, a concrete reservoir for treated water, and a kiosk for selling / distributing water to villagers.

The PEER project is meant to complement the work already being conducted at the University of Oklahoma (OU) under an NSF grant and will serve to combine technical and social science researchers at both partnering universities in pursuit of sustainable fluoride mitigation solutions. Laboratory adsorption studies on the Al-oxide coated medias (natural zeolites and clays) will be followed by field testing of the most promising materials. Socioeconomic and cultural factors that will influence adoption of the technology will also be assessed in order to promote the long-term sustainability of the solutions. The project award is $114K over a two year period (corresponding to the remainder of OU's NSF grant).

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