What India Can Teach America About Clean Drinking Water

The Takeaway

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Access to clean water has become a global crisis, but in India, that problem is particularly acute: 99 million people there do not have access to clean water. The World Bank estimates that unsafe water is responsible for 21 percent of communicable diseases in India, world's second-most populous nation.

Along with his colleagues, Thalappil Pradeep, a professor of chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, has developed a pioneering water filter that uses nanotechnology to rid drinking water of both microbes and chemical contaminants.

“It is quite important to make sure that affordable clean water is not a distant dream in several parts of the world,” he says. “We are indeed in a position today to deliver affordable solutions to people.”

Pradeep says his filter, which requires no electricity and is already providing contaminant-free water to 400,000 people in West Bengal and seven other Indian states, also provides a good solution for the environment at large.

“If you look at the overall energy consumption, the environmental impact of this, and the raw materials, our methodology is green,” he says. “Let’s say you use a liter of water for the production of these materials, we create 500 to 1,000 liters in the process of consuming these materials. So, essentially, we produce a water positive product, which is quite unique in comparison to many other products on the market.”

For just $16.00, the filter — the first such device to both kill microbes and remove chemicals like lead and arsenic — could provide a family of five with clean water for an entire year.  Though this breakthrough technology has helped thousands, Pradeep says that education is the key to its success. After all, using a filter incorrectly does little to protect public health.

“It is important to implement the solutions and gradually educate people as we go along,” he says. “Arsenic contamination is something that people are generally aware of, but you cannot see arsenic, you cannot taste arsenic, you cannot smell it — you can only see the effects over a long period of time.

He continues: "It is important to make sure the people are educated about the importance of clean water, about the importance of keeping their filters clean, and about the importance of backwash and such things to ensure [safety] — especially in a poor community where every day living itself is so difficult.”

While Pradeep’s filter is already being used across India, he has big hopes for the future. He says such a filter could even be used to address the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan.

“With this technology or similar technologies, we can ensure that the world is arsenic free, that the world is fluoride free, that the world is mercury free,” he says. “Why should people suffer from any of these contaminants? We can provide water free. Clean water for all can actually be given affordably. That would be my dream.”

Check out The Takeaway’s hour long special on America’s water crisis here.