New Drinkable Book Could Save Millions of Lives

Child Holding Bottle of Well Water

This African girl holds a bottle of water that may not live up to safe drinking water standards.

Water is essential for life, but millions of people in rural Africa do not have access to this precious resource. Now a new book developed by scientists could transform polluted water into clean drinking water.

Scientists revealed the new book at the 250th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society August 16th. Lead researcher Dr. Theresa Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and her team developed the book that can not only educate but also physically transform polluted water into clean, safe drinking water.

The book features instructions on water filtration in both English and the appropriate local language. However, this particular book is not made with regular ink but is instead embedded with nano-particles of silver and copper. As someone filters their water through a page of the book, held in place by a special device, the metal particles help kill bacteria and some viruses, making the water safe to drink.

The researchers say that one page of the book can be reused, cleaning up to twenty-six gallons, or one hundred liters, of water. In all, one book can give one person clean drinking water for about four years.

The researchers have already tested their drinkable book in the field with impressive results. They used the book to filter water from a drainage ditch that was contaminated with raw sewage. Since the water contained millions of bacteria, it could potentially have made someone ill, but many people in the world do not have better options for drinking water. However, in this experiment, the special paper was able to filter and purify the water to about 99.9 percent purity. That makes the filtered water comparable to the standards for drinking water in the United States.

Although some silver and copper may leech into the water from the special paper, the researchers say this is not a cause for concern. Only a minimal amount should end up in the water, and it would be well within standards set by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S.

Other field tests in South Africa, Kenya, northern Ghana, Haiti, and Bangladesh helped show that the special drinkable books could benefit local residents. These rural inhabitants may have an unreliable utility system or none at all, a water source that is far away, or water sources that are contaminated. Even when aid organizations have helped set up water purification plants, they can be expensive to run and some developing countries have not been able to maintain them.

For now, the scientists have been hand-making the special books, which limits the number of people they can help. However, they are hoping to soon increase production to help more communities get the clean drinking water that is essential for their life and health.

The researchers say their water filtration book is relatively inexpensive to make. It is also portable, and puts the ability to filter water directly in the hands of those who need it. However, although the paper seems to be effective in reducing bacterial contamination in water, some caution that there could still be danger from viruses and parasitic microorganisms that can cause disease, such as cryptosporidium. Tests are also needed to determine how easy the technology is for people to use on their own, without the scientists present.

Every year, millions of people around the world die from drinking water contaminated by bacteria. A large proportion of these deaths are Children who have not yet built up an immunity to waterbourne diseases. Worldwide, 663 million people do not have access to the clean drinking water that many take for granted.

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