Just one book can provide an individual with clean drinking water for four years.
Around 1 billion people worldwide live without access to clean drinking water. The World Economic Forum announced in January 2015 that the water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society as a measure of devastation — topping the spread of infectious diseases and weapons of mass destruction. However, scientists have collaborated with a non-profit organization — pAge Drinking Paper — to design a groundbreaking product that may alleviate the effects of the water crisis on a global scale.
The Drinkable Book is an inexpensive, simple, and easily transported method to purify drinking water. Theresa Dankovich, Ph.D., developed the concept while studying the material properties of paper. The book has staggering capabilities: one page can clean up to 26 gallons (100 liters) of drinking water, and one book can filter an individual’s water needs for four years.
The Drinkable Book uses nano-technology to rid water of pollutants. It’s been known for centuries that silver and other types of metals have the ability to kill bacteria, but no one thought of embedding the materials into paper. Through her studies at McGill University and the University of Virginia’s Center for Global Health, Dankovich found that ingraining silver and cheap copper nanoparticles in thick filter paper eliminated a wide variety of bacteria and some viruses.
The real test came when Dankovich ventured to Africa to test if the filters would work on “real” polluted water, not only water that was purposely contaminated in a lab. She says she and her field team took on an extremely challenging first water sample from a ditch next to an elementary school in Limpopo, South Africa, where raw sewage had been dumped. The water contained millions of bacteria, but they were no match for The Drinkable Book.
“Even with highly contaminated water sources like that one, we can achieve 99.9 percent purity with our silver- and copper-nanoparticle paper, bringing bacteria levels comparable to those of U.S. drinking water,” Dankovich says. While minimal amounts of silver and copper can trickle through the filter paper, the amount leeched into the water stays below drinking water limits for metals set by the Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization.
Last year, the pAge Drinking Paper organization teamed up with WATERisLIFE to design the 25-page drinkable book. Each page can be torn out and used for filtration, but the pages are also embossed with informative sanitary advice for local communities.
However, every new invention, particularly those that dictate the health of humans, is met with skepticism. Stuart Kahn, an engineering professor from the University of New South Wales, (who wasn’t involved in the research) told Scientific American that any efforts to provide clean drinking water to communities in need should be applauded, but he’s concerned about how people can ensure that the water has been decontaminated. “The concept would be substantially improved if someone could find a reliable means of demonstrating when disinfection has been satisfactorily achieved and when it has not,” he says.
Before the product becomes commercially available, Dankovich intends to further develop it and smooth out the kinks. Bottom line: the book could provide the leap society needs to achieve a world where everyone can access the clean water they need to survive.