Experts at the University of Birmingham today announced that they have developed a unique device that could save lives in countries like India by quickly and simply testing whether water supplies are safe to drink.
A team from the University’s Department of Civil Engineering has developed prototype optical equipment called “Duo Flor” which uses water’s natural fluorescence to “scan” the water and highlight pollutants that are present in the sample – almost instantly revealing whether supplies are safe to drink.
Professor John Bridgeman, who led the team of researchers, said: “It is vital to ensure that people have access to safe water supplies. The ‘Duo Fluor’ device is a huge step forward in managing water and wastewater systems and has the potential to save lives – not just in India, but around the globe.
“Microbiological waterborne disease remains a significant concern for the global water community. Pathogens in drinking water sources cause ill health and the ‘Duo Fluor’ allows rapid drinking water quality checks to prevent the spread of disease and death.”
The researchers are now working with experts from the charity Oxfam and funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Diageo Foundation to refine the instrument design and make it ideally suited to disaster relief and areas of poor sanitation.
And they plan to work with counterparts at TERI University on research based around the quality of drinking water in New Delhi.
The city is located on the banks of the Yamuna and many inhabitants rely on the river for their daily water supply.
Many households in northern Delhi rely on shallow groundwaters, abstracted by hand-pump, for drinking water supply – providing potential for water contamination.
The ‘Duo Fluor’ device uses portable and inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment to reveal unsafe sources of drinking water in less than 30 seconds.
It should help reduce the risk of future widespread outbreaks of cholera and other water-related diseases in areas of poor sanitation.
Professor Bridgeman said despite the hard work of those responding to the UN Millennium Development Goals, there are still 768 million people who do not have access to safe drinking water supplies and 2.5 billion are without access to improved sanitation services.
Current methods of analysing the quality of drinking water take more than 12 hours and use expensive reagents.
This is not fast enough to meet people’s needs in poor communities and disaster zones.
“Duo Fluor allows water experts to interpret results, but also uses user-friendly technology to allow non-experts to test whether water is safe to drink. This means that people in the poorest communities could help to protect themselves from unsafe drinking water,” he said.
The instrument has a range of potential uses within the global water industry, including: Detecting organic and microbial matter in a range of water qualities – from sewage to drinking water; improving process efficiency at water treatment works; identifying potential contamination of service reservoirs and distribution systems and testing river water quality at abstraction points and treatment works’ discharge points.