A $3 Water Purifier That Could Save Lives

I have written about the problems of water shortage before. Water is most certainly going to be the most important commodity in the future, not only because it is becoming scarcer to find in drinkable and pottable quality, but also because the ever increasing world population is finding many uses for it outside of drinking as well.

Treatment of water to make it drinkable has recently attracted many investigators, both in basic research and in product development. Fortunately a significant body of knowledge is developing even though th eproblem is not yet fully solved. While reverse osmosis or membrane based filtration systems are used in large field deployments (e.g. in Saudi Arabia and Israel), a big problem plaguing this field is that the treatment systems are needed for the developing parts of this world, and that is exactly where the associated costs quickly become prohibitive. However, I am encouraged to see lots of activity in this sector, esp by budding scientists and young entrepreneurs, who have identified this as a great opportunity to create value for their businesses and do good at the same time. Kudos to VC and private equity firms that are supporting their efforts with investments. I wish them luck.

Here’s an idea that showed up on NYTimes recently and I am highlighting here. This, together with ideas that are as simple as building small clay vessels lined with adsorbing ferrous catalysts, or small scale filters for family use, iso an indication that a ground breaking technology may be just around the corner.




Published: October 10, 2006


In very poor countries, the family that has to walk miles to fetch drinking water from a well or a stream may be the lucky one. In many villages, the water source is a filthy pond trod by animals and people, or a mud puddle out next to the yam field.

As a result, about 6,000 people a day — most of them children — die from water-borne diseases.


Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish textile company that supplies water filters to the Carter Center guinea worm eradication program and mosquito-killing plastic tarps to refugee camps, has come up with a new invention meant to render dangerous water drinkable.


The invention is called Lifestraw, a plastic tube with seven filters: graduated meshes with holes as fine as 6 microns (a human hair is 50 to 100 microns), followed by resin impregnated with iodine and another of activated carbon. It can be worn around the neck and lasts a year.


Lifestraw isn’t perfect, but it filters out at least 99.99 percent of many parasites and bacteria, the demons in most fatal cases of diarrhea.


It is less effective against viruses, which are much smaller and cause diseases like polio and hepatitis, and it wouldn’t protect American backpackers against the parasite giardia.


Nor does it filter out metals like arsenic, and it has a slight iodine aftertaste (not necessarily a bad thing in the large stretches of the globe with iodine deficiency).


It can be manufactured for about $3, but it needs more field-testing. Only about 100,000 have been handed out, 70,000 to earthquake victims in Kashmir last year.


Already in the works, however, is a Lifestraw toddler version — which will be squeezable.


3 Responses to A $3 Water Purifier That Could Save Lives

  1. I follow your blog for a long time and should tell you that your posts always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers.

  2. DR RAHUL KOLHE says:

    Dear sir/madam,
    i found lifestaw very intresting from scientific point of view for underdeveloped and developing countries. is it available in india ? can you send complementary lifestraw unit to me for practical demonstration to undergraduate students.

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