Eliminating water-borne bacteria with pages from The Drinkable Book could save lives

August 16, 2015, American Chemical Society
Dankovich pours contaminated pond water into a funnel containing an antimicrobial filter paper to obtain clean drinking water in a rural area of Bangladesh. Credit: Ali Wilson

Human consumption of bacterially contaminated water causes millions of deaths each year throughout the world—primarily among children. While studying the material properties of paper as a graduate student, Theresa Dankovich, Ph.D., discovered and developed an inexpensive, simple and easily transportable nanotechnology-based method to purify drinking water. She calls it The Drinkable Book, and each page is impregnated with bacteria-killing metal nanoparticles.

Dankovich will explain her technology and reveal new results of recent field tests conducted in Africa and Bangladesh at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Although silver and similar metals have been known for centuries to have the ability to kill bacteria, no one had put them into paper to purify , Dankovich notes. While earning her doctorate at McGill University, she found that sheets of thick filter paper embedded with could do just that, eliminating a wide variety of microorganisms, including bacteria and some viruses.

She continued her research at the University of Virginia's Center for Global Health, expanding the repertoire of embedded nanoparticles to include ones made of inexpensive copper. Dankovich also began field investigations of water purification applications in Limpopo, South Africa, as well as northern Ghana, Haiti and Kenya.

"In Africa, we wanted to see if the filters would work on 'real water,' not water purposely contaminated in the lab," she says. "One day, while we were filtering lightly contaminated water from an irrigation canal, nearby workers directed us to a ditch next to an elementary school, where raw sewage had been dumped. We found millions of bacteria; it was a challenging sample.

"But even with highly 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 adds. "Some silver and copper will leach from the nanoparticle-coated paper, but the amount lost into the water is within minimal values and well below Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization drinking water limits for metals."

Last year, she formed a nonprofit company, pAge Drinking Paper. In collaboration with the nonprofit WATERisLIFE organization and Brian Gartside, a designer formerly with DDB New York and now with Deutsch, her company developed a unique product that is essentially a book comprised of pages embedded with silver nanoparticles. Printed on each page is information on water safety both in English and the language spoken by those living where the filter is to be used. Each page can be removed from the book and slid into a special holding device in which water is poured through and filtered. A page can clean up to 26 gallons (100 liters) of drinking water; a book can filter one person's water needs for four years.

Now a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, Dankovich is further developing the technology and conducting more field studies in rural communities. In June, Dankovich teamed up with International Enterprises (iDE)-Bangladesh, an international nonprofit, in a field trial to explore commercialization of the silver nanoparticle paper filter for household treatment. In several districts in southern Bangladesh, customer-focused surveys provided rich insights into easily accepted and culturally appropriate filter designs, she says, adding that the field tests continued to show significant reductions in coliform bacteria counts.

Dankovich is also connecting her chemistry expertise with industrial designers at the University of Cincinnati and with environmental engineers at Carnegie Mellon. "We have a bunch of designs, and we are trying to trim them down and keep them simple," she says. "Worldwide, many people use a 5-gallon bucket for many needs, so we are basing our approach on that type of container.

"Along with applications, our biggest current focus is to scale up, going from a lab bench experiment to a manufactured product. We have to go from 'cool chemistry' to something everyone can understand and use."

Explore further: Producing clean water in an emergency

More information: The Drinkable Book - a novel nano-enabled antibacterial paper filter for water purification in developing countries, the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

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2 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2015
Bleach is easy to make and is generally quite a potent disinfectant. What does nanoparticle silver bring to this equation that Bleach does not?
5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2015
Bleach is easy to make and is generally quite a potent disinfectant. What does nanoparticle silver bring to this equation that Bleach does not?

Exactly that, it does not contain bleach, only filtered water.
2 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2015
Exactly that, it does not contain bleach, only filtered water.

So your argument is "bleach bad --silver nanoparticles good?" I don't understand (by the way, I have nearly 30 years working as an engineer at a very large water utility).
5 / 5 (4) Aug 16, 2015
It's easier to store and transport than bleach. The locals can simply put the book on a shelf, while bleach needs a sealed, liquid-proof container. And the book is probably lighter than enough bleach to do the same job.

Also, the paper doesn't need to be mixed or measured, and there's no danger of children or animals being poisoned, which can happen with bleach or other liquid purifiers.

Last, this would also filter out some non-living contaminants, which bleach wouldn't affect.

For areas with good transportation, and a stable water supply, bleach (chlorine) is preferable, as it also sterilizes the water system. But for those using local streams or contaminated hand-drawn wells, this is probably handier.

5 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2015
Humans have a tendency to spoil their nests - take antibiotics, or micro beads, CO2, fertilizer, nuclear waste, and on and on. Nanoparticles, in my mind, have similar potential.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2015
Bleach is easy to make and is generally quite a potent disinfectant. What does nanoparticle silver bring to this equation that Bleach does not?

Exactly that, it does not contain bleach, only filtered water.

The poison is in the dose. The amount of chlorine present is harmless.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2015
Phages, not pages.

I have a very close and loving relationship with my gut biome. We've been together for a long time.
Anything that harms them, harms me. Chlorine, 245T (or whatever biocide is used these days) and especially Big Bad flourine do nasty things to my little friends.
I have drunk dilute animal urine from a sand scrape in the Zambesi valley during a war. That had about as rich an ecology as one would hope to find. There were no ill effects whatsoever.
1. Get real. Your poo is not sterile.
2. Don't harm your biome.
3. If you don't have the guts for Africa, don't go there.

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