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Maryville College, CAK grad awarded Fulbright

Unlike the vast majority of people in the United States, Matt Murrill thinks a lot about water between those times he showers, brushes his teeth, washes his hands and loads his washing machine.

It’s a healthy obsession — and one that could, eventually, benefit millions in his lifetime.

Murrill, a 2008 summa cum laude graduate of Maryville College, and a graduate of Christian Academy of Knoxville, recently was notified he has been selected for a prestigious Fulbright-Nehru Award, which will allow him to study the groundwater arsenic contamination of the Indian state of West Bengal.

Murrill will leave Aug. 15 for an orientation in New Dehli, India, and expects to spend the next nine months at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India, working with scientists in the university’s School of Environmental Studies.

“The World Health Organization has labeled the groundwater arsenic contamination of the Bengal Basin as the largest environmental poisoning in history, worse than both the radioactive fallout of Chernobyl and the industrial disaster at Bhopal,” Murrill said.

“Some research suggests that up to 26 million people in West Bengal and 77 million people in Bangladesh are at risk of drinking water with arsenic levels greater than the WHO maximum permissible limit.

“Individuals at, and affiliated with, Jadavpur University have been studying this problem since the mid 1980s, and the director has two decades worth of experience,” he added.

In addition to water sampling and testing in the laboratory, Murrill expects to study the historical and socio-cultural aspects of the contamination. Looking at the problem holistically, he believes, is the best way to implement long-term solutions.

“Generally, arsenic is associated with geologic sources; however, there are many situations globally where human activity causes or exacerbates the problem,” he said.

“While a consensus has yet to be reached on the exact source of groundwater arsenic in the Bengal Basin, it is widely thought that arsenic is present naturally in the sediment and released under certain biological and chemical conditions.”

According to Murrill’s research, arsenic-contaminated drinking water afflicts not only South Asia but also other regions including Chile, the Western United States, Appalachia, Mexico and Canada. Chronic exposure to this heavy metal is associated with a myriad of health problems – atherosclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, skin lesions and certain types of cancer.

Murrill is believed to be the first MC student or recent graduate to be awarded a Fulbright Fellowship.

“Almost every single Fulbright Fellowship at this level goes to a recent graduate of an Ivy League or similarly well-known — and similarly-priced — college,” said Dr. Dan Klingensmith, associate professor of history who was a Fulbright Scholar in 2007 and advised Murrill through the Fulbright application process.

“It’s a competitive grant, in short, and I’m delighted and proud that one of our students did so well and that I could be a part of it.”

The U.S. Congress established the Fulbright Program in 1946 to promote “international goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.” Now six decades old, it remains the U.S. government’s most prestigious scholarship program, operating in 155 countries. Since its signing on Feb. 2, 1950, more than 9,800 Americans have traveled to India and 5,000 Indians have come to the United States as Fulbright scholars.


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