Nearly 750 million people around the world lack access to clean drinking water, the effects of which leads to over a half-million deaths each year, most of whom are children. Despite considerable progress over the 25 years, it remains one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today.
But it just might also be one of the easiest problems to solve, thanks to the "drinkable book."
Presented at the American Chemical Society's 250th national meeting in Boston, this invention is basically a paper, treated with silver and copper nanoparticles, which tests have shown to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria when water is filtered through it.
Twenty-five of the papers are bound into a book, and it's been shown to even make water previously polluted with raw sewage comparable to U.S. drinking water.
The Drinkable Book is economical too, with each reusable page able to purify about 100 litres of water. That means one book could meet a single person's water needs for four years.
Initially conceived when Dr. Theresa Dankovich was still a grad student at McGill University in Montreal, she says in a ACS press release that despite centuries of knowledge that silver and other metals can kill bacteria, nobody had ever used them to purify water. Her tests at McGill found filter paper embedded with silver nanoparticles could remove "a wide variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and some viruses."
After moving on to the University of Virginia’s Center for Global Health and now Carnegie Melon where she's doing postdoctoral research, Dr. Dankovich added copper nanoparticles to the mix and started collaborating with the charity Water is Life on field tests in South Africa, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya and Bangladesh.
"It's directed towards communities in developing countries," Dr. Dankovich told the BBC. "There was one site where there was literally raw sewage being dumped into the stream, which had very high levels of bacteria. But we were really impressed with the performance of the paper; it was able to kill the bacteria almost completely in those samples. And they were pretty gross to start with, so we thought — if it can do this, it can probably do a lot."
There is some metal leaching into the water, but Dankovich says it falls below Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization safety limits.
Dankovitch has started a nonprofit, pAge Drinking Paper, to bring her invention to market. The book pages will not only act as water filters, but also information spreaders, as each page will contain information about water safety and usage instructions printed in local languages.
Currently a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, Dankovich is looking into using her filtration paper for household water treatment, as well as developing "easily accepted and culturally appropriate filter designs."
“Along with applications, our biggest current focus is to scale up, going from a lab bench experiment to a manufactured product. We have to go from ‘cool chemistry’ to something everyone can understand and use."
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