A simple, low-cost method to remove naturally occurring and industry-related arsenic from drinking water has been discovered by researchers in China and Saudi Arabia.

Although sophisticated treatment methods already exist for removing the poison from drinking water, the new technique could be used in rural and developing regions that lack the necessary equipment or technical know-how.

Astonishingly, the method uses leftover materials from another known health threat: cigarettes.

Jiaxing Li and colleagues recognized that the porous structure of cigarette ash could be suitable for removing arsenic from water, and they decided to test it.

The researchers prepared cigarette ash with a coating of aluminum oxide, and when they tested the material with contaminated groundwater they found it removed more than 96 percent of the arsenic. This reduced levels to below the standard set by the World Health Organization, the American Chemical Society reports.

Tests also showed that the material could be reused at least six times without a significant decrease in adsorption capacity. The researchers concluded that it represents a promising method for the efficient removal of arsenic from groundwater.

Cigarette ash is discarded in countries around the world and it can be easily collected in places where public smoking is allowed, making it ideal for a low-cost solution that addresses a serious public health issue, the scientists said.

The findings of the study have been published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, a scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.