Book used to filter murky water proves effective

Book with pages used to filter drinking water has proved to be effective in field tests

The pages of the drinkable book have proved to be effective in filtering drinking water in recent field tests
The pages of the drinkable book have proved to be effective in filtering drinking water in recent field tests

A book with pages that can be torn out to filter drinking water has proved effective in its first field trials, the BBC reports.

The so-called drinkable book combines treated paper with printed information on how and why water should be filtered. The pages contain nanoparticles of silver or copper, which kill bacteria in the water as it passes through.

In trials at 25 contaminated water sources in South Africa, Ghana and Bangladesh, the paper successfully removed over 99% of bacteria. The resulting levels of contamination are similar to US tap water, the researchers say, with tiny amounts of silver or copper also leeched into the water, but these were well below safety limits.

The results were presented at the 250th national annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, US.

Dr. Teri Dankovich, a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who developed and tested the technology for the book over several years, working at McGill University in Canada and then at the University of Virginia, said;

"It's directed towards communities in developing countries. All you need to do is tear out a paper, put it in a simple filter holder and pour water into it from rivers, streams, wells etc and out comes clean water - and dead bacteria as well," she told BBC news, noting that some 663 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water.

The bugs absorb silver or copper ions - depending on the nanoparticles used - as they percolate through the page.

"Ions come off the surface of the nanoparticles, and those are absorbed by the microbes," Dankovich explained.

According to her tests, one page can clean up to 100 litres of water and a book could filter one person's water supply for four years.

Dankovich had already tested the paper in the lab using artificially contaminated water, and success there led to the field trials which she conducted over the past two years, working with charities Water is Life and iDE. The bacteria count in the water samples used for the trials plummeted by well over 99% on average - and in most samples, it dropped to zero.

"Greater than 90% of the samples had basically no viable bacteria in them, after we filtered the water through the paper," Dr Dankovich said.

Dankovich and her colleagues are hoping to step up production of the paper, which she and her students currently make by hand, and move on to trials in which local residents use the filters themselves.

"We need to get it into people's hands to see more of what the effects are going to be. There's only so much you can do when you're a scientist on your own."

Next, Dr Lantagne said, the team will need "a commercialisable, scalable product design" for a device that the pages slot into. She also said that while the paper appears to kill bacteria successfully, it is unclear whether it would remove other disease-causing micro-organisms.