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Charlottesville Tablet Could Help Purify Global Drinking Water

Research at the University of Virginia has evolved into much more than just numbers and data.  The MadiDrop, a new disinfecting water tablet, has the potential to help millions of people in developing countries.  WMRA’S Brit Moorer explains how it came about and how researchers plan to use just one small tablet to change the world’s water crisis.

JIM SMITH: Most of the people in the world, or at least half, don’t have what we have.

Water is a fundamental necessity of life, and access to it in the U.S. -- relatively easy.  Most of us just turn on the tap, but for developing countries access to clean drinking water is anything but a given.

SMITH: Many people in the world particularly children die from unsafe water or they have growth stunting or cognitive impairment.

Which is why Jim Smith and a team of researchers came up with a way to decentralize water treatment for developing countries, giving people the chance to clean their water right before they drink it – regardless of where it comes from.

SMITH: To get that to work you need a technology that’s going to be really easy to use, it’s going to have to be technologically effective. It’s going to have to be cheap it’s going to have to be socially acceptable.

Smith is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia.  He’s also one of the driving forces behind MadiDrop, a tablet with a unique chemistry that disinfects water. “Madi,” meaning water in Tshivenda, a language spoken in the region in South Africa that first tested out the product, and then “Drop” -- because you drop it into water.

SMITH:  We thought maybe a better approach would be to have a tablet that’s made out of ceramic and has silver in it that you can just drop in your water storage container and could passively release silver ions that are a very effective disinfectant for water-borne pathogens.”

Changing the way people think about water and drink their water.

SMITH: The idea is that you just drop this tablet in your water storage container, say a 5 gallon painter’s bucket that’s very common in the developing world. You fill the bucket up at night and the next morning the water is safe is drink.

After dropping the MadiDrop into a bucket it can stay there for six months before swapping it out for a new one and it only costs about five dollars to produce.  After years of research and development, getting it into the hands of people in developing countries, well, that’s the next step.

DAVID DUSSEAU: Well now begins all the hard work of commercializing it. Turning it from a laboratory invention into a commercially ready product.

David Dusseau is the CEO of MadiDrop. He realized this could be something big after hearing about the product at a business pitch presentation.

DUSSEAU: People all over the world struggle just to survive and get the water they need every day so that they don’t get sick and then the water they do get they often spend hours and days and miles of bringing it in sits there and makes them sick, it becomes contaminated. So this is a huge issue. I looked at this and I said once I understood that here’s a technology that could have an amazing impact on a huge number of people globally.

So far, organizations in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa have expressed interest in using the MadiDrop, and it is being field tested in Mongolia and in Colombia.

DUSSEAU: This little town in Charlottesville with this great university in it now is introducing this product that is going to affect hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, it’s a great sense and it’s about making a difference.

MadiDrop has set up a manufacturing facility in Charlottesville and is working on funding in order to be able to grow in the hopes that eventually their facility will be able to produce 10-25,000 tablets a month to go to people in developing countries all over the world.