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UVa Invention Improves Access to Clean Water

February 8, 2013

A water purification tablet created by a University of Virginia non-profit has the potential to help get clean water to hundreds of thousands of people in the developing world.

PureMadi, the group of UVa students and faculty behind the invention, introduced the device Friday.

It's called a MadiDrop. When placed in a container, the small ceramic disc purifies water, removing pathogenic micro organisms and making it safe to drink. The entire process takes only a few hours.

"What the World Health Organization has said is, the best thing to do is for people to treat their water right before they consume it," said UVa civil and environmental engineering professor and director of PureMadi Jim Smith. "That's why these technologies are gaining increasing interest in the global community."

One MadiDrop costs a few dollars and can consistently produce clean water for about six months.

The new tablet is a cheaper alternative to a water filter PureMadi has already developed and put to use in South Africa.

The larger, ceramic pot rests on a bucket-like container, serving as a filter for untreated water. The filter and container cost between $15-20 and can serve a family of five to six people for several years.

"What's nice about our technologies is that we make these materials from local materials in the developing world -- clay, sawdust and water," Smith said.

PureMadi set up a factory in Limpopo province, South Africa, last summer to make the filters, employing 45 women potters.

"They already know something about ceramics, so we teach them how to make these filters and these MadiDrops," said Smith. "Therefore, it becomes a sustainable business for them, so not only do we help water quality in the community, we also empower a local economic driver."

Smith says a long-term goal is establishing about a dozen other factories to make the MadiDrops and filters, which could produce healthy drinking water for half a million people a year, ultimately saving lives.

"About two million children die each year due to water-borne pathogens that they're consuming, so we think that technologies like this can perhaps put a dent in those child deaths and some of the associated cognitive impairment and growth stunting that occurs from these bacterial pathogens," said Smith.

PureMadi showcased the latest invention at a sold-out fundraising event Friday night, celebrating the non-profit's one-year anniversary.


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