Clean Water Comes Cheaply

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GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Sustainability in innovation is all about products that use minimal, readily available resources to solve problems- solutions that can be adapted quickly and maintained easily in the environment of their use. When these solutions are designed for developing nations, simpler technology is better as resources are scarce. What is more simple or basic than a clay pot?

Ceramic pot filters offer such a solution to one of the world’s most detrimental problems, access to clean water.  Some 780 million people are without it, and the UN reports more people die from drinking unsafe water than from war each year. Many areas around the world lack water treatment facilities and even plumbing, and local water sources are often unregulated and unprotected. Natural disasters like typhoons and floods also contribute to the disease and turbidity found in these water supplies.
Dr. Fernando Mazariegos invented the design currently used in ceramic pot filters in 1981 to provide safe drinking water to the extremely poor using a technology familiar to his local community in Guatemala. Pumice stone filters had been in use for centuries in the Americas, and silver has been known as a sanitizing agent for water for over a thousand years. The decontaminizing element of these two ancient technologies is combined in the ceramic filter.The clay is mixed with rice husks, saw dust, or some other readily available organic material before being shaped. When fired in a kiln, the organic material burns off leaving many layers of microscopic pores in the pot. Bacteria and particulates are much larger than most of the pores and are trapped on the filter while water seeps through even narrower cracks that are formed during heating. Since the pores vary in size and some are large enough for bacteria to pass through, the filter is also dipped or painted in colloidal silver which kills bacteria. This process results in a filter that eliminates 99% of pathogens.Current versions of this filter typically are placed in a plastic receptacle with a spigot to collect and dispense the filtered water. The final result looks like this, and produces 1-3 liters of clean water every hour. Used for 20 liters every day, the filter will last 3 years with minimal care.
 Costing as little as $10 to produce, they can be constructed by self-sufficient manufacturers in many cases. Start-up costs are the initial hurdle but materials and labor can be found cheaply and locally, making companies that produce the filters low-risk investments. The factories can also produce bricks and other commercial clay products to supplement income.Potters for Peace is a nonprofit that provides assistance in the training and development of anyone who wants to start a ceramic water filter factory. There are 36 different factories across 18 countries producing these low-cost water sanitation devices. Hydrologic Social Enterprise in Cambodia and Pure Home Water in Ghana are both major success stories for the filter. Educating rural communities on the use and need for these life-saving devices has been and will be a crucial part of their success.– Tyson Watkins

Sources: Potters for Peace, Pure Home Water, CDC, US Embassy, MIT News, Phys Org, Innovations for Poverty Action
Photo: JD Harris

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