Start-up in Charlottesville Creates Product to Tackle Worldwide Water Contamination | Community Idea Stations

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Start-up in Charlottesville Creates Product to Tackle Worldwide Water Contamination

A small, start-up company in Charlottesville is set to tackle the problem of contaminated water worldwide, with a small, silver-infused ceramic pill--the MadiDrop. This new University of Virginia-inspired public benefit company with a global health mission has opened administrative offices and a small production facility in Charlottesville. Why the name “MadiDrop?” The product name is based on the South African word for water--“madi.” Learn more in this Science Matters report by 88.9 WCVE’s Charles Fishburne.

James Smith, Civil and Environmental Engineer, University of Virginia: “The MadiDrop is a simple, ceramic tablet. It’s made from clay, fired in a kiln to sinter the clay…it’s got silver in it, and the silver is a very effective disinfectant.”

Fishburne: “James Smith is a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Virginia.”

Smith: “When we place the MadiDrop in a water storage container, it releases ionic silver into the water, which disinfects the water and makes it safe to drink.”

Fishburne: “The World Health Organization says 80% of all sickness and disease worldwide is related to contaminated water.”

Smith: “There are probably 3 to 3 1/2  billion people who don’t have what we have here in the United States…and the consequences of that are very significant. Basically, we see that children respond to poor quality water with growth stunting and cognitive impairment, and probably something close to 2 million a year of child deaths are due to drinking unsafe water.”

Fishburne: “James Smith and his colleagues at UVA believe MadiDrops can made a big difference.”

Smith: “Yeah, we can’t distribute high-quality water to everybody in the world, but if we can get people to treat their water right before they drink it, we potentially can have a big, positive impact on human health.”

Fishburne: “The MadiDrops are safe for humans, deadly for bacteria.”

Smith: “We’ve designed the MadiDrops so that the silver level released into the drinking water is high enough to be effective as a disinfectant for water-borne pathogens, but it is much lower than the drinking water standards set by such organizations as the US EPA and the World Health Organization. So it is completely safe to drink, and furthermore, it doesn’t alter the taste of the water. Things like chlorine tables or chlorine drops do alter the taste, and what we’ve found…what organizations have found, that, when you change the taste of the water, people don’t like that and may not change their behavior and use this technology.”

Fishburne: “Under development since 2007 and tested extensively at UVA labs and field tested in South Africa, the drops go into production in January in Charlottesville, and a six-month supply might sell for as little as $5, with most earlier products going to world agencies already dealing with the problem of contaminated water.”

Smith: “The people who are making one or two dollars per day…even $5 for a MadiDrop may be too expensive for them. But we plan to get it to those people through aide agencies. We anticipate some of our biggest customers will be relief agencies, USAID, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam International.”

Fishburne: “At first, the little factory in Charlottesville expects to produce 100 thousand a month, but could ramp up to one million a month as demand increases. Madi, by the way, is a South African word, for water.”

For more on this story go to UVA Today and MadiDrop.