Overcoming Limitations of Current Ceramic Water Filter Implementation as means to Create Sustainable Community Access to Clean Water (STS research paper)

Jordan, Genevieve, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Lee, Jongmin, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

We are in the midst of a global water crisis. Over 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water (WHO). Nearly 4 million people die annually from diseases and health issues caused by waterborne pathogens. Recently, there have been great strides in improving source water (such as lakes, rivers, and wells), but water is easily re-contaminated during transport and storage, making it unsafe to use. The best way to prevent recontamination is to treat water directly before consumption, at the point-of-use. While there are many POU technologies available, my thesis focuses on one in particular: ceramic water filters. Ceramic water filters (CWF) are highly effective at removing waterborne pathogens. However, a main limitation to their widespread use is the cost and the scarcity of silver nanonparticles in the developing world.

My technical research explores a more efficient and economical method of creating ceramic water filters that will reduce the amount of skilled labor needed in manufacturing and eliminate the risk of silver wearing off over time and use. Results indicated that silver may not be needed at all. At the same time, silver prevents microbial growth within the filter media which could cause contamination with long term use. Regardless of the amount of silver or how the silver was applied –either traditionally by painting silver nanoparticles or by firing the filter with silver nitrate, all filter media behaved similarly. This indicates that the newer method of using silver nitrate is a viable option. While these results are promising, long-term effects of the silver release on filter performance is unknown and further studies need to be conducted.

My STS research stems from one central question: will these ceramic water filters have a beneficial impact on the communities where they are used? To explore this idea, I analyzed the practices of two successful CWF companies: Potters for Peace and PureMadi. In general, implementation focuses on the technical side and remains on the filter, not the community. While it is important for filter factories to be operating correctly, little regard has been given to whether the filters are being used properly in the community. Non-profit organizations rely heavily on outside groups to distribute filter, making it extremely difficult to track filter use and acceptance in the community. Efforts of CWF organizations must remain directed towards not only technical implementation, but also cultural understanding of the local communities.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

This work would not have been possible without the guidance and support of Professor James Smith and doctoral candidate Kathryn Nunnelley of the Civil Engineering Department and Professor Jongmin Lee of the Science, Technology and Society Department. I greatly appreciated their continued engagement and advice throughout the year.

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