In the World: A long haul to bring clean water to developing nationsMIT’s Susan Murcott expands ceramic-filter production to three continents, bringing jobs and curbing disease.
David L. Chandler, MIT News Office
“It’s been a long, hard slog,” says Susan Murcott, a senior lecturer in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, describing her efforts to disseminate water-filtration systems to some three million people in northern Ghana. About half of these people presently lack access to a reliable supply of clean drinking water. But after nine years of efforts by Murcott and her students, the project has begun to make a difference.
Factories that produce these locally sourced, clay-pot filters — originally invented by Fernando Mazariengas of Guatemala and since improved and widely disseminated by Murcott and others — have already been built at 52 locations in 31 countries, she says, with the newest of these factories in Guatemala, Uganda, South Africa, and China. So far, the Ghana factory, built in 2011 and reaching full production last year, has provided sustainable, safe drinking water to more than 100,000 people in that country’s impoverished, rural northern sector. In January, 10 MIT students will work there to help expand production and monitor outcomes.
The filters — made with a mixture of local clays and precisely sieved, combustible material, such as rice husks — have been shown to reduce microbial contamination in water by 98 percent, leading to a more than two-thirds decrease in diarrheal disease among families using them. The combustible material burns off when the clay is fired, leaving a network of tiny pores that serve to filter out sediment and microbes as water trickles through; the filter is further treated by the application of colloidal silver nanoparticles that have antimicrobial properties. One such filter can produce enough clean water daily to serve the needs of a large family. Read more.