Kanchan Arsenic Filter

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Cross-section through a Kachan Arsenic Filter

The Kanchan Arsenic Filter (KAF) is an adaptation of the biosand filter (BSF). It is based on slow sand filtration and iron hydroxide adsorption principles. The KAF has been designed to remove arsenic from drinking water, in addition to providing microbiological water treatment. Arsenic removal is achieved by incorporating a layer of non-galvanized nails in the diffuser basin of the filter.

This filter was developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) of Nepal, and Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Support Programme (RWSSSP) of Nepal.

Suitable conditions

It is suitable to process batches of 12-18 litres. If two batches a day are filtered, this provides 24-36 litres of clean water.

Advantages Disadvantages/limitations
- Can remove arsenic, pathogens, iron and turbidity from drinking water

- Constructed by trained local technicians using local materials.
- Good flow rate (15-20 litres/hour)
- Simple operation and maintenance (O&M)
- This KAF is constructed of simple materials available on the local market
- The construction of the filter can be carried out by locally trained technicians

- Does not provide residual protection to minimize recontamination

- Filter should not be removed after installation because cracking or breakage may occur.
- Waste isolation
- Changing water sources (esp. to rainwater) may compromise removal of arsenic

Highly effective for: Somewhat effective for: Not effective for:
- Arsenic

- Iron
- Bacteria
- Protozoa
- Helminths
- Turbidity
- Taste/odour/colour

- Viruses
- Dissolved Chemicals
Treatment process:
Inlet water criteria:
Turbidity < 50 NTU

Construction, operations and maintenance

The filter container can be constructed out of concrete or plastic. The container is about 0.9 m tall and either 0.3 m square or 0.3 m in diameter.

The container is filled with layers of sieved and washed sand and gravel (also referred to as filter media). There is a standing water height of 5 cm above the sand layer.

Similar to in slow sand filters, a biological layer of microorganisms (also known as the biolayer or Schmutzdecke) develops at the sand surface, which contributes to the water treatment.

The diffuser basin is filled with 5 to 6 kg of non-galvanized iron nails for arsenic removal. A layer of bricks on top of the nails prevents displacement of the nails when water is poured into the filter.

Arsenic from the water is rapidly adsorbed onto the rust on the iron nails. The rust and arsenic flake off the nails, and are caught in the sand filter and retained. This is a very tight bond; re-suspension of arsenic into the water, or re-mobilization of the arsenic from the waste produced from cleaning the filter has shown to be negligible.

In addition, pathogens, iron and suspended material are removed from water through a combination of biological and physical processes. These occur both in both the biolayer and within the sand bed. These processes include: mechanical trapping, adsorption/attraction, predation and natural death.


Contaminated water is poured into the top of the filter on an intermittent basis. The water slowly passes through the diffuser, and percolates down through the biolayer, sand and gravel. Treated water naturally flows from the outlet.

The biolayer is the key pathogen removing component of the filter. Without it, the filter is significantly less effective. It may take up to 30 days to establish the biolayer depending on inlet water quality and frequency of use. The water from the filter can be used during the first few weeks while the biolayer is being established, but disinfection is recommended during this time, as during regular on-going use.

The biolayer requires oxygen to survive. When water is flowing through the filter, dissolved oxygen in the water is supplied to the biolayer. During pause times, when the water is not flowing, the oxygen is obtained by diffusion from the air.

Correct installation and operation of the biosand filter has a water level of approximately 5 cm above the sand during the pause period. A water depth of greater than 5 cm results in lower oxygen diffusion to the biolayer. A water depth less than 5 cm may evaporate quickly in hot climates and cause the biolayer to dry out.

A pause period is needed between uses to allow time for the microorganisms in the biolayer to consume pathogens in the water. The recommended pause period is 6 to 12 hours with a minimum of 1 hour and maximum of 48 hours.

The KAF has been designed to allow for a filter loading rate (flow rate per square metre of filter area) which has proven to be effective in laboratory and field tests. This filter loading rate has been determined to be not more than 600 litres/hour/square metre.

The recommended flow rate for the concrete KAF is 0.6 L/minute measured when the inlet reservoir is full of water. If the flow rate is much faster, the filter may become less efficient at removing pathogens. If the flow rate is much slower, the user may become impatient and not use the filter even though the filter is working well at removing pathogens. Since the flow rate is controlled by the size of the sand grains, it is very important to select, sieve and wash the sand properly.

The treated water should be collected by the user in a safe storage container placed on a block or stand, so that the container opening is just under the outlet, minimizing the risk for recontamination.

Sand and iron nail selection and preparation are critical to ensure flow rate and treatment. Filters should not be moved after installation.


Local production of filters is most common. Molds can be borrowed, rented, bought or constructed locally. Filters can be constructed at a central production facility, or in the community. Filter sand and gravel can be prepared (sieved and washed) on-site or nearby.

Materials and facilities required are:

  • Steel mold
  • Sand, gravel, and cement
  • Filter sand and gravel
  • Copper or plastic outlet tubing
  • Metal or plastic for the diffuser basin
  • 5-6 kg of non-galvanized iron nails
  • Metal or wood for the lid
  • Water for concrete mix and to wash filter sand and gravel
  • Miscellaneous tools (e.g. wrench, nuts, bolts)
  • Facilities: Workshop space for filter construction

A skilled welder required to fabricate molds. Anyone can be trained to construct and install the filter. Individual householders can assist in constructing their own filters.

Working with cement and heavy molds is potentially hazardous and adequate safety precautions should be used. Concrete filters are heavy and difficult to move and transport.

Treatment Efficiency

Bacteria Viruses Protozoa Helminths Turbidity Iron {{{extra_Field}}}
Laboratory Up to 96.5% 12 70 to >99% 3 >99.9% 4 up to 100% 5 95% up to <1 NTU 1 not available not available
Field 87.9-98.5% 678 not available not available Up to 100% 5 80 to 95% 791011 90-99% 91011 85-95% 91011

The Treatment efficiencies provided in the above table require an established biolayer; it takes up to 30 days to establish the biolayer and 2 weeks to establish rust on the nails depending on inlet water quality and usage. The filter must be used almost every day to maintain the biological layer (maximum pause period is 48 hours).

The best performance requires a consistent water source; switching sources may decrease treatment efficiency.

Normal cleaning will reduce filter efficiency until the disturbed biolayer re-establishes itself. Appearance and odour of treated water is generally improved. The treatment cannot remove pesticides or fertilizers (organic chemicals) nor remove salt, hardness, and scale (dissolved compounds). It does not provide residual protection to minimize recontamination.


There are no moving or mechanical parts to break. In concrete models, the piping is embedded in concrete, protecting it against breaks and leaks. Concrete has been shown to last in excess of 30 years.

Concrete filters are heavy (70 – 75 kg for thin wall version and 135 kg for heavy wall version). Poor transportation of filters can lead to cracking and/or breakage. Cracks can sometimes be repaired. Filters should not be moved after installation.

Maintenance is required when the flow rate drops to a level that is inadequate for the household use. Swirl and dump maintenance for the top layer of sand is simple, takes a few minutes and can be done by household users. The frequency of swirl and dump depends on turbidity of inlet water. The outlet, lid and diffuser should be cleaned on a regular basis.

The outlet should also be cleaned regularly using soap and water or a chlorine solution.

Estimated Lifespan

The estimated lifespan is unlimited, existing filters are still performing satisfactorily after 10+ years. Lids and diffusers may need replacement. Nails need to be replaced every 2-3 years to ensure effective arsenic removal.


Free mold designs are available from CAWST.


Captial Cost Operation Cost Replacement Cost Estimated 5 years Cost Cost/liter treated
US$ 12-30 US$ 0 US$ 0 US$ 12-30 US$ ~0.01

Note: Program, transportation and education costs are not included.

Field experiences

Reference manuals, videos, and links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buzunis (1995)
  2. Baumgartner (2006)
  3. Stauber et al. (2006)
  4. Palmateer (1997)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Not researched. However, helminths are too large to pass between the sand, up to 100% removal efficiency is assumed.
  6. Earwaker (2006)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Duke & Baker (2005)
  8. Sharma (2005)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ngai et al. (2004)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ngai et al. (2007)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Uy et al. (2008)


This article is based on a factsheet from Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST), which is gratefully acknowledged.

  • Buzunis, B. (1995). Intermittently Operated Slow Sand Filtration: A New Water Treatment Process. Department of Civil Engineering, University of Calgary, Canada.
  • Baumgartner, J. (2006). The Effect of User Behavior on the Performance of Two Household Water Filtration Systems. Masters of Science thesis. Department of Population and International Health, Harvard School of Public Health. Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
  • Duke, W. and D. Baker (2005). The Use and Performance of the Biosand Filter in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti: A Field Study of 107 Households, University of Victoria, Canada.
  • Earwaker, P. (2006). Evaluation of Household BioSand Filters in Ethiopia. Master of Science thesis in Water Management (Community Water Supply). Institute of Water and Environment, Cranfield University, Silsoe, United Kingdom.
  • Elliott, M., Stauber, C., Koksal, F., DiGiano, F., and M. Sobsey (2008). Reductions of E. coli, echovirus type 12 and bacteriophages in an intermittently operated 2 household-scale slow sand filter.Water Research, Volume 42, Issues 10-11, May 2008, Pages 2662-2670.
  • Ngai, T., Murcott, S. and R. Shrestha (2004). Kanchan Arsenic Filter (KAF) – Research and Implementation of an Appropriate Drinking Water Solution for Rural Nepal. [Note: These tests were done on a plastic biosand filter]
  • Palmateer, G., Manz, D., Jurkovic, A., McInnis, R., Unger, S., Kwan, K. K. and B. Dudka (1997). Toxicant and Parasite Challenge of Manz Intermittent Slow Sand Filter. Environmental Toxicology, vol. 14, pp. 217- 225.
  • Ngai, T., Shrestha, R., Dangol, B., Maharjan, M. and S. Murcott (2007). Design for Sustainable Development – Household Drinking Water Filter for Arsenic and Pathogen Treatment in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A. Vol A42 No 12 pp 1879-1888.
  • Stauber, C., Elliot, M., Koksal, F., Ortiz, G., Liang, K., DiGiano, F., and M. Sobsey (2006). Characterization of the Biosand Filter for Microbial Reductions Under Controlled Laboratory and Field Use Conditions. Water Science and Technology, Vol 54 No 3 pp 1-7.
  • Uy, D., Chea, S., Mao, S., Ngai, T. and T. Mahin (2008). Kanchan Arsenic Filter - Evaluation of Applicability to Cambodia - Phase I Technical Report. Cambodian Ministry of Rural Development and the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.