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New UD technology removes viruses from drinking water

New UD technology removes viruses from drinking water

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Pei Chiu (left), an associate professor in UD’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Yan Jin, a professor of environmental soil physics in UD’s plant and soil sciences department, have developed an inexpensive, nonchlorine-based technology that can remove harmful microorganisms from drinking water, including viruses.
UD photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

University of Delaware researchers have developed an inexpensive, nonchlorine-based technology that can remove harmful microorganisms, including viruses, from drinking water.

UD's patented technology, developed jointly by researchers in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Engineering, incorporates highly reactive iron in the filtering process to deliver a chemical “knock-out punch” to a host of notorious pathogens, from E. coli to rotavirus.

The new technology could dramatically improve the safety of drinking water around the globe, particularly in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over a billion people--one-sixth of the world's population--lack access to safe water supplies.

Four billion cases of diarrheal disease occur worldwide every year, resulting in 1.8 million deaths, primarily infants and children in developing countries. Eighty-eight percent of this disease is attributed to unsafe water supplies, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.

In the United States, viruses are the target pathogenic microorganisms in the new Ground Water Rule under the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Act, which took effect on Jan. 8.

“What is unique about our technology is its ability to remove viruses--the smallest of the pathogens--from water supplies,” Pei Chiu, an associate professor in UD's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said.

Chiu collaborated with Yan Jin, a professor of environmental soil physics in UD's plant and soil science department, to develop the technology. They then sought the expertise of virologist Kali Kniel, an assistant professor in the animal and food sciences department, who has provided critical assistance with the testing phase.

Viruses are difficult to eliminate in drinking water using current methods because they are far smaller than bacteria, highly mobile, and resistant to chlorination, which is the dominant disinfection method used in the United States, according to the researchers.

Besides helping to safeguard drinking water, the UD technology may have applications in agriculture. Integrated into the wash-water system at a produce-packing house, it could help clean and safeguard fresh and “ready to eat” vegetables, particularly leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, as well as fruit, according to Kniel.

Currently, the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology in Calgary, Canada, is exploring use of the UD technology in a portable water treatment unit. Since 2001, the registered Canadian charity has provided technical training in water and sanitation to more than 300 organizations in 43 countries of the developing world, impacting nearly a million people.

The University of Delaware is pursuing commercialization opportunities for the research. Patents have been filed in the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Switzerland.

For more information, contact Bruce Morrissey, UD director of technology development, Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, at [brucem@udel.edu] or (302) 831-4230.

Media contact: Tracey Bryant, (302) 831-8185, [tbryant@udel.edu]
February 27, 2007