BY: M. TOMOSKI
When someone makes the claim that a book can save lives, skepticism is likely the most reasonable response. It may even be fair to assume that they had just emerged from a crowded auditorium where the past hour was spent listening to dated house music and chanting self-help slogans with the aid of a prompter. But this new book is the product of scientific research and is much more likely to be displayed at the United Nations headquarters than on a shelf at your local bookstore.
At the American Chemical Society’s 250th national meeting in Boston, Dr. Teri Dankovich introduced the Drinkable Book, the pages of which could potentially provide clean drinking water to millions of people without access to it. The project was developed and successfully tested during her doctoral studies at McGill University.
This technology, known as pAge, uses paper infused with silver nanoparticles to remove bacteria from contaminated water sources.
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, 750 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. The ultimate goal for this project would be to reach these people and make the process of obtaining clean water as simple as brewing a cup of coffee.
Under controlled conditions in the lab, the paper was able to filter 99.9% of bacteria. In her post-doctoral work with the University of Viginia, Dankovich set out to see whether those results could be replicated in the real world.
In partnership with Water is Life and iDE – Bangladesh, the Drinkabke Book was able to remove nearly 100% of bacteria at 25 contaminated sources in Haiti, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Bangladesh. The project was recieved with curiosity and enthusiasm. “People were very interested in how the filter works and ways to use it in their current household practices,” said Dankovich.
The filter has even proven to be successful in some of the harshest conditions:
“There was one site where there was literally raw sewage being dumped into the stream, which had very high levels of bacteria,” she told BBC news. “But we were really impressed with the performance of the paper; it was able to kill the bacteria almost completely in those samples.”
While the project has not yet been proven to remove protozoa and viruses, like its counterpart the LifeStraw, Dankovich said that she is currently working with her students at Carnegie Mellon to further the page’s filtering capabilities.
But what her innovative idea has offered thus far is truly remarkable. The Drinkable Book is the cheapest and easiest method for providing clean water to those in need. With each page containing two removable filters the book is not only easy to use – all it requires is that the water be poured through – but also it is extremely efficient.
One page can clean up to 100 litres of water and the whole book could filter one person’s water supply for four years.
It also has the added benefit of being its own instruction manual, as well as a tool to educate its users. Printed with food grade ink, the book provides information on how to access clean water and why it is so important.
According to Water is Life, the water crisis in many developing countries is not only a cause of disease, but also has the social side effect of impeding the education of women. They claim that, “up to 6 hours a day are spent, by women and girls, fetching water.” Easier access to clean water could allow them more time in the classroom and could even help to increase their families’ farm yields.
To date, Dr. Dankovich has produced every pAge herself, making only enough for 50 Drinkable Books.
While together these books could filter up to 200 years worth of water for one person, her current goal is to produce 25,000 filters, enough to make 1,000 books. But this sort of scale will require something more than the kitchen at a local church where she currently produces the pages.
Donations have been made toward a crowdfunding campaign that has raised $2,536 so far, with a goal of $30,000 which will allow her to test the books in two villages for up to a month. But funding for the project is not the only way to help the Drinkable Book reach as many people as possible. Dankovich also plans to make the instructions visual as well as translating its contents into several languages in order to ensure that everyone has access to clean water.