VOLUME 22 #2

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Simple fabric device boosts clean water

image of someone holding a piece of the fabric
Photo by Evan Krape
The fabric membrane can be used to line drums of waste.

RESEARCH | Each year in India, waterborne diseases sicken more than 37 million people, and 1.5 million children die of diarrhea, according to a report by the nonprofit WaterAid.

In the developing world, open pit latrines—as sophisticated as an outhouse or as simple as a trench in the ground—are common, but they pose a significant risk to public health and the environment.

Now, a team at UD has reinvented the common latrine by adding a breathable fabric as a simple way to protect the nearby groundwater and wells from contamination, while also protecting sanitation workers from exposure to pathogens. The work was originally funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations Fund.

The researchers, led by environmental engineering Prof. Steve Dentel, are piloting the membrane technology in Kanpur, India, one of the country’s largest industrial cities. They are collaborating with representatives from WaterAid to test the innovative approach, which uses a breathable membrane in a fabric similar to that used in sports and camping gear.

“In first-world countries, we use this type of fabric to keep from getting wet,” says Dentel, a recognized expert on waste processing. “But in the developing world, it could be a key to basic health and sanitation.”

The membrane captures the waste and allows water to evaporate, leaving everything else behind. The waste dries, and clean water is released.

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