Today I learned about a recent discovery that has the potential to save thousands of lives each day. If you haven’t heard about it, that’s probably because it’s a niche story about water purification (no first-world implications).
But it’s also a story about a scientist who found a simple, affordable solution to a complex problem. It may not have much news value, but I like that kind of story.
In the developing world, dirty water and sanitation issues are behind 80 percent of disease. The cheapest way to purify drinking water is to put it in plastic bottles and let it bake in the sun. Six hours later, you’ve got pathogen-free (if plasticky) water. It’s called the SODIS method, and it’s been critically important to communities that can’t afford other solutions.
Problem is, it requires clear water to begin with. You can’t clean muddy water with sunlight.
So this researcher at MTU decided to see if he could come up with solution that was still affordable. He added salt to the muddy water. Table salt. Then he watched the muddying clay particles sink to the bottom of the container as the water above the sediment became clear.
Dirty water + salt + sunlight = drinking water. That’s it. It’s a solution that requires no fancy equipment, no pharmaceuticals, no complicated infrastructure. And it costs almost nothing.
MTU made a nice little video that explains the process in a little more detail. If you want a lot more detail, you can read the paper here.