Sustainable Technologies for Fluoride Removal From Drinking Water for Rural Communities in Developing Regions

EPA Grant Number: FP917313
Title: Sustainable Technologies for Fluoride Removal From Drinking Water for Rural Communities in Developing Regions
Investigators: Brunson, Laura R
Institution: University of Oklahoma
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Drinking Water


A major global issue is that approximately 884 million people around the world lack access to safe drinking water supplies. The health issues resulting from inadequate safe drinking water contribute to other world concerns such as education, maternal health and economic development. Fluoride and arsenic are significant contributors to the world drinking water crisis, affecting approximately 200 and 100 million people, respectively. Consumption of elevated levels of fluoride and arsenic can result in serious health and financial issues. To increase access to safe drinking water, sustainable, inexpensive and locally available materials must be developed, assessed and improved. This work focuses on developing and testing innovative technologies (e.g., aluminum coated bone and wood chars) for removing fluoride and/or arsenic from drinking water, and on assessing best practices for implementation in rural emerging communities.


The goal of this research is to develop, characterize and evaluate the effectiveness and sustainability of novel materials for fluoride and arsenic removal in emerging regions of the world. These materials will be developed using principles of colloid and surface chemistry to amend carbonbased materials to enhance the adsorption and sustainability of these materials using surface modification methods. These methods will entail coating the high surface area char materials with an appropriate metal or metal mixture and testing pre-treatment and surface modification techniques. Materials will be tested under various conditions (e.g., with competing ions, at different pH values and varying the solid-liquid ratio) using batch adsorption tests and continuous flow column studies. The most effective materials then will be tested for environmental impact by conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA). The best selections from the LCA will undergo a test implementation study in a rural village in Ethiopia with the end goal being to produce successful fluoride removal media and water treatment implementation guidelines useful for researchers/implementers in the United States and abroad.

Expected Results:

The approach of this research is helpful because it will produce many tangible outcomes. One helpful product is the technical data that will be discovered through the process of testing different media coating and treating methods. This data could have applications even beyond the field of drinking water treatment. A second helpful outcome will be the sustainable and useful media produced as the result of this study. This media has the potential to be produced and used in many countries around the world to remove fluoride, and possibly arsenic, from water to produce safe drinking water. This product result also has the potential to be part of a U.S.- or developing country-based social entrepreneurial organization that would get safe drinking water into communities and also contribute to local economic development. The inclusion of the life cycle assessment and implementation study components of this work complements the technical aspects and allows for a larger contribution towards increasing access to safe drinking water by finishing the cycle from engineering technology research to successful implementation in communities of need.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

The overarching goal of this research is to develop and assess novel technologies that will treat water to make it safe for human consumption. Getting people around the world access to safe drinking water would avoid numerous health difficulties and save millions of dollars in health expenses and lost productivity each year. Additionally, although the primary focus of this work is on researching and assessing a successful and acceptable water treatment technology, the research includes a LCA component. This LCA will compare the environmental impacts of several valid treatment technologies for different regions to determine the water treatment media with the least harmful environmental impact. Therefore, this work is intended to contribute to solving the global drinking water crisis in a way that minimizes the potential for negative environmental impacts.

Supplemental Keywords:

fluoride, drinking water, bone char, wood char, aluminum coating,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final