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by Ishan Desai

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.  ~Thomas Fuller

According to the World Health Organization there are around 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean drinking water and 2.6 billion people who lack proper sanitation.  Texas A&M University engineering professor, Bryan Boulanger, and graduate research assistant, Ishan Desai, are hoping to change this outlook by incorporating nanotechnology into treatment systems used throughout the world.  Nanotechnology is the science that deals with particles of matter smaller than 100 nanometers. Nanotechnology based treatment alternatives are an emerging field of water purification science that has the potential for treating water and wastewater quickly, efficiently, and at lower future costs. 

Research performed by Boulanger and Desai is focused on evaluating the ability of such nanoscale metal oxide particles to remove common water contaminants such as heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and chromium), anions (nitrates, nitrites, phosphates, bromide, chloride, and fluoride), and organics (DDT, TCE, PCE, antibiotics and hormones) from source waters. The main objective of their research is to evaluate the fundamental factors affecting surface chemistry occurring between the nanoparticles and contaminants.  By thinking small, the researchers hope to have a big impact and provide useful solutions to solve the growing potable water crisis.  

For additional information please contact:-

Dr Bryan Boulanger: –

Ishan Desai: –



Of course, we are not the only group of concerned scholars, artists, and citizens dedicated to finding solutions to the global water crisis. One group that is truly an inspiration is The Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS). This group is a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.

The mission of The WaterCAMPWS is to develop revolutionary new materials and systems for safely and economically purifying water for human use, while simultaneously developing the diverse human resources needed to exploit the research advances and the knowledge base created.

Their size, depth, and example of interdisciplinary work is impressive and inspirational. They have so many members from a variety of different institutions and locations. If we can only be so fortunate and evolve into an impressive resource for water research and education.

Here is a copy of a letter our friend and project consultant Manny Hernandez recently received. The letter is from Mark Green, United States of America Ambassador to Tanzania. In the letter, Ambassador Green acknowledges Manny for his unselfish work to help people. I find the following statement as the most inspirational part of the letter:

Few people have the dedication, let alone the ability, to take their professional skills and use them to lift up those in need. Your teachings and your approach to development will create a lasting legacy that benefits generations to come.

Manny is the embodiment of dedication, ability and generosity. We are honored and proud to know and work with him.

Thank you Ambassador Hernandez.

The letter refers to an article about Manny that appeared in the recent issue of Northern Now, a publication by Northern Illinois University. Read more about Manny and the feature story about him in this publication.

The TAMU Water Project is working directly with communities in the Texas Colonias that lack access to potable water. This situation is not unique to the border region of the Lone Star State. Apparently, the Buckeye State as its own story to tell as became evident in a recent court case earlier this month. The following are excerpts from CNN.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Residents of a mostly black neighborhood in rural Ohio were awarded nearly $11 million Thursday by a federal jury that found local authorities denied them public water service for decades out of racial discrimination.

Each of the 67 plaintiffs was awarded $15,000 to $300,000, depending on how long they had lived in the Coal Run neighborhood, about 5 miles east of Zanesville in Muskingum County in east-central Ohio.

The money covers both monetary losses and the residents’ pain and suffering between 1956, when water lines were first laid in the area, and 2003, when Coal Run got public water…

Coal Run residents either paid to have wells dug, hauled water for cisterns or collected rain water so they could drink, cook and bathe.

“As a child, I thought it was normal because everyone done it in my neighborhood,” said one of the plaintiffs, Cynthia Hale Hairston, 47. “But I realized as an adult it was wrong.”

Judging from a recent NPR story, it looks like many residents of Baghdad, Iraq could use more ceramic water filters. TAMU Water Project consultants Dick Wukich and Manny Hernandez traveled to Iraq a few years ago–Dick made several trips–to help establish filter production facilities. The war escalated. Dick returned and found the facility abandoned but the potters were no where to be found. Read part of the NPR story below, visit the www page to read the complete story, or listen to the audio version Listen Now [3 min 48 sec].

Weekend Edition Sunday, July 13, 2008 · In Baghdad these days, many Iraqis have been finding text messages on their cell phones from the Ministry of Health warning them not to drink untreated tap water.

Health officials say tap water all over the city is unsafe and that they fear an outbreak of typhoid or other water-borne diseases during the baking hot months of summer….

Doctors in the children’s ward of Fatima al-Zahra Hospital see dozens of patients each day with symptoms of water-borne diseases. One mother tells Dr. Abbas al-Nuaimi that her 3 1/2-month-old baby girl has been throwing up and suffering from diarrhea. A doctor gave the baby injections, but the diarrhea has gotten worse…

Water-borne diseases are common in poor countries that have no sewage or clean-water systems, but Baghdad once had such things. Dr. Fadhil al-Mehdawi, Director of Community Medicine at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, says the pipes have been wrecked by years of neglect and war.

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. Wikipedia has information about ceramic water filters. Below is the entry as of today, July 16, 2008. Perhaps we will check back in a few weeks (or months) to see whether there are any changes to the entry, (e.g. additional information, corrected typographical errors).

Ceramic water filters are an inexpensive and effective type of water filter, that rely on the small pore size of ceramic material to filter dirt, debris, bacteria and out of water. This filtration type does not remove chemical contaminants. As with most filtration methods, water is introduced to one side of the filter, which acts to block the passage of anything larger than a water molecule. Only water and smaller contaminants will pass through to the other “clean” side of the filter. Additionally many ceramic water filters (CWF) are treated with colloidal silver to further incapacitate bacteria and prevent the growth of mold and algae in the body of the filter. The two most common types of CWF are pot type and candle type filters. However, the silver-impregnated media in such filter may cause other by-products which are chronically harmful to human health.

Clay, being a plentiful and inexpensive material, makes for a fantastic solution in providing clean drinking water in rural areas – Several NGOs are supporting the expansion of the use of ceramic filters in drinking water development initiatives; most commonly, in the form of clay pot filters.

Inexpensive CWF systems consist of a porous ceramic filter that sits on top of a plastic or ceramic receptacle. Contaminated water is poured in the filter and passes through the filter into the receptacle below. The receptacle usually is fitted with a tap.

Contaminants which are larger than the minute holes of the ceramic structure will remain in the top half of the unit, which can be cleaned by brushing the inside of the top section with a soft brush and rinsing it out. Hot water and soap can also be used.

There are also portable ceramic filters, such as the MSR Miniworks, which work via manual pumping, and in-line ceramic filters, which filters drinking water that comes through household plumbing. Cleaning these filters is the same as with the clay pot filter but also allows for reverse-flow cleaning, wherein clean water is forced through the filter backwards, pushing any contaminants out of the ceramic pores.

The major risks to the success of all forms of ceramic filtration are hairline cracks and cross-contamination. If the unit is dropped or otherwise abused, the brittle nature of ceramic materials can allow fine, hard to see cracks can allow larger contaminants through the filter. Also, if the “clean” water side of the ceramic membrane is brought into contact with dirty water, hands, cleaning cloths, etc, then the filtration will be ineffective. If such contact occurs, the clean side of the filter should be thoroughly sterilized before reuse.

Here is a link to view a story that aired on CNN on July 1. Ron Rivera from Potters for Peace shared it with us. The story shows the clay/sawdust/colloidal silver filter used in Guatemala. While the story clearly describes the technology and the advantages of using these filters around the world, the reporter fails to mention the work of Potters for Peace or other projects (like TAMU Water Project) who are also using the technology. The story makes it seem as if this group is the only one doing this work. Further, the reporter suggests that the director of the project in Guatemala “discovered” the filters. Such language echoes colonization and “saviors” at work. Nevertheless, the video helps to spread the word about this affordable technology and may aid in helping more people gain access to potable water.

Resource Development International Cambodia (RDIC) is an organization dedicated to helping people in Cambodia.

RDI-Cambodia is a U.S.- Registered, Private, Non-profit, Organization working internationally. We are dedicated to serving the people of Cambodia in dynamic ways. RDI has combined technology, education, and heart in order to help the people of Cambodia. Each project stands independent in its own right, but the entire range of projects form a unique and strong outreach program that works best as a sum of all its parts.”

This site provides excellent information on the technology and process used to produce ceramic water filters similar to the ones we are producing in this project. The site also presents related water and health information. has dedicated a page in its extensive set of resources to the importance of drinking water. Here is just a sample:

“What do you, the trees, and a hamster have in common? Give up? You all need water. All living things must have water to survive, whether they get it from a water fountain, a rain cloud, or a little bottle attached to the side of a hamster cage.

“Without water, your body would stop working properly. Water makes up more than half of your body weight and a person can’t survive for more than a few days without it. Why? Your body has lots of important jobs and it needs water to do many of them. For instance, your blood, which contains a lot of water, carries oxygen to all the cells of your body. Without oxygen, those tiny cells would die and your body would stop working.”

The Ixtatan Foundation is supporting a ceramic water filter project using the same technology that we are using for our project; the clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver filters. (For more on this and other water filter technologies, click here.)

“Engineers from the University of Virginia are conducting an ongoing study of water quality in San Mateo Ixtatán and the water filters produced in the school’s kilns, now being used to purify drinking water in the town’s homes. They will measure the effects of regular access to clean water on the health and productivity of the people of San Mateo Ixtatán. Students are involved in this work as well, learning to take water samples, measure water quality, build filters, and work with community members”

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