While over 3.4 million people die from water-borne diseases each year, the trouble is that the people who live in affected areas may have no idea that contaminated water is a problem. And even if they do, they don't have much they can do about it (if your local drinking water supply is contaminated, it's not likely you have access to — or could afford — clean water). So preventing deaths from diseases in local water supplies is two-fold: First, educating the local people about how to keep water clean (simultaneously letting them know their water could be dangerous) and second, finding a simple, reliable way to clean the water. 

The chemistry-meets-design challenge, The Drinkable Book, solves both problems. How does it work? 

According to the Drinkable Book's site: "Each book is printed on technologically advanced filter paper, capable of killing deadly waterborne diseases. And each page is coated with silver nanoparticles, whose ions actively kill diseases like cholera, typhoid and E. coli. Once water is passed through the filter, bacteria count is reduced by over 99.99 percent, making the filtered water comparable to tap water in the United States of America."

drinkable book

No, it isn't super-expensive; the paper costs just pennies to produce and each sheet/filter is capable of producing about 30 days of clean water, meaning each book could filter water for up to four years. And the kicker? The paper can be printed with details and information in an area's native language, detailing how to keep existing water supplies cleaner, how to use the filters, and what diseases filtered water can prevent. So the filters act as communication devices in and of themselves. 

The project came about as a collaborative effort between researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Virginia, the water-focused charity Water is Life (they developed that water-purifying straw), and DDB. The chemist who thought the idea up, Teri Dankovich, who developed the paper during her PhD thesis at McGill University (and continued work at the University of Virginia) said of her development: “I led a team of undergraduates in field tests in South Africa of this antibacterial paper,” she wrote in an email to Slate. “All of the chemicals used [to treat the paper] have been selected because they are safe, renewable, and nontoxic.”

Getting the books printed in a cost-effective manner and distributed to the 33 countries where Water is Life does business is the next step. 

Related on MNN: