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‘Drinkable Book’ to Filter Water for Developing Countries

There are about 663 million people in this world who don’t have access to clean drinking water, and as a result, many people die. Of course, this means that researchers have spent many years trying to come up with a way of making water safer to drink, especially in developing countries.

One such researcher, Dr Theresa Dankovich at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the US, has been developing and testing technology for a book that could provide millions of people with clean water.

While you might be wondering just how much good a book can do, this one has a more practical purpose than just providing reading material. And that was demonstrated when the book was presented to the 250th ACS (American Chemical Society) annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

The pages of the book, designed by Brian Gartside, can be torn out and have been specifically designed to act as a filter that kills bacteria as water seeps through the paper in a custom filter box.

The paper is infused with silver nitrate, well within the safety limits, but which can kill bacteria with very little exposure. At the moment, the books are being made by hand by Dr Dankovich and her students.

After successful trials in the lab with artificially contaminated water, Dr Dankovich and her team decided to put the so-called “Drinkable Book” to the test in field trials.

Last year, the team launched a kickstarter and managed to raise more than $11,300 (£7,220) to go towards 1,000 Drinkable Books.

Trialled at 25 contaminated water sources across Bangladesh, Ghana, and South Africa, the books proved to be as successful as Dr Dankovich could have dared to dream.

More than 90% of samples from the trial sites had little to no viable bacteria in them. This means the number of bacteria has plummeted from around 99% to 0%!

Dr Dankovich explained that there was one location that the team thought would prove a tough challenge for the paper and really put it to the test.

Raw sewage with very high levels of bacteria was being dumped into a stream that local people needed to use for drinking water. But, amazingly, water filtered through one of the book pages was shown to be completely clear of any bacteria.

The pages have instructions printed on them

The next step is for trials involving local people using the books for themselves. Instructions on how to use the book are printed on the pages, in both English and in the local language, and a single page can filter up to 100 litres of water. This means that just one book could clean the water supply for a person for four whole years.

If the trials also work out, the team will be able to stop making the books by hand and step of production.

“It is really exciting to see that not only can this paper work in lab models,” Dr Dankovich explained, “but it has also shown success with real water sources that people are using.”

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