Improved decision making for fluoride removal from groundwater in Indian communities


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Please note applications are no longer being accepted for this position

This is one of two research projects developing new systems for remediating groundwater pollution in India. The University of Melbourne is the home institution for this project. 

Fluoride is one of the most widespread endemic health problems associated with natural geochemistry.

In almost 30 countries, people are affected with ‘fluorosis’ due to intake of fluoride-rich water including India, where over 120 million people are impacted by elevated fluoride.

It has been considered a double-edged sword, as evidence suggests that low fluoride concentrations (~ 0.5 - 1 mg/L) may reduce the risk of dental caries, but that detrimental human health impacts such as dental and skeletal fluorosis occur with increasing risk at higher fluoride concentrations (> 1.5 mg/L) (WHO 2019 ).

Most of the rural and peri-urban communities in fluoride endemic regions in India lack access to centralised water supply and rely on untreated groundwater to meet most domestic and agricultural water demand, and can be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of fluoride.

Various pump and treat techniques at household and community scale have been employed for fluoride removal by a range of remediation processes including sorption, ion exchange and membrane filtration, although each process has significant challenges in terms of regular monitoring and renewal of filter media, cost, waste disposal or energy use.

Therefore, successful implementation of user-friendly and cost-effective strategies for fluoride remediation remains very challenging due to cost, operational challenges and social issues.

Project goals

The goals of this project are to develop:

  1. A suite of cost-effective and user-friendly fluoride removal systems/filters adaptable for household or community use.
  2. A robust and effective toolkit for the selection and management of groundwater fluoride remediation strategies in fluoride impacted areas of West Bengal. The toolkit will consider technical, economic, community participation and governance issues associated with implementation.

The specific research questions are:

  1. What are the challenges associated with the available fluoride removal processes and how these challenges can be addressed by process modification? (Lab testing associated with field sample collection)
  2. How can fluoride removal be optimised under varied groundwater composition and remediation targets to enable its applicability to other sites with similar issues? (Lab-scale studies)
  3. Identify the most important selection criteria for determining the optimal strategy for the removal of fluoride and associated contaminants in this context including cost, health outcomes, ease of operation etc.

Supervision team

The University of Melbourne: Associate Professor Meenakshi Arora

*Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

The University of Manchester: Doctor Laura Richards

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Strong background in (Masters or Honours I) in environmental/chemical/geological sciences, environmental/chemical engineering or similar.
  • Demonstrated experience in data analysis, fieldwork, laboratory work.
  • Be highly motivated, independent, hard-working and curious, with a strong interest in research.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments. Numerous researcher training and development opportunities are available and encouraged. There will be multiple opportunities for collaboration, presenting research during monthly seminars and annual Post Graduate conference and (co-)authoring scientific publication(s).

This PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Manchester. The candidate will benefit from world-leading academic expertise and excellent research facilities available within the Faculty of Engineering and IT and the Faculty of Science including IC, GC, AAS, ICP-OES, ICP-TOF and the equipment for fixed-bed column tests. The Melbourne supervisors Associate Professor Meenakshi Arora and Associate Professor Suzie Reichman have access to Engineering Water labs, CAPIM Pollution labs and controlled environmental chambers.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Department of Infrastructure Engineering at the University of Melbourne, and in the PhD program at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester.

Please note applications are no longer being accepted for this position

First published on 20 March 2023.

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