Undergraduate Project on Virus Removal in Slow Sand Filters for Rural Mayan Communities

EPA Grant Number: SU834296
Title: Undergraduate Project on Virus Removal in Slow Sand Filters for Rural Mayan Communities
Investigators: Nguyen, Thanh (Helen) H.
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2009 through August 14, 2010
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Challenge Area - Pollution Prevention , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Socorro is located in the Bocacosta region along the volcanic slopes of the highlands in southwestern Guatemala. Despite the village’s proximity to a major international highway, infrastructure is severely underdeveloped. A survey of the village reveals that few have latrines or other waste disposal systems, and in most cases the waste is channeled towards the Chichoy River. This river also serves as a drinking water source for approximately 75% of the village. Due to community effort, most homes now have piped untreated river water, which is used for drinking, cooking, and washing. However, this water is not potable. Water- and soil-borne pathogens cause problems such as scabies, lice, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, giardia, shigella, entamoeba, and soil transmitted helminthes. We hope to alleviate these health issues by implementing a slow sand filtration (SSF) system that will use iron oxide particles mixed in with the sand substrate.


Slow sand filters have been empirically proven to effectively remove bacterial pathogens from water, resulting in a filtrate of potable quality. However, slow sand filters are often not effective against viruses for several reasons: viruses are too small to be subject to the mechanical filtration of the slow sand filter, they are electrostatically repelled by most sand particles, and they are usually not metabolized by organisms that grow in the biologically active layer of the SSF. Thus, a form of virus removal is often required to treat water that has been through a slow sand filter. The disinfection technique most prevalently applied in developing areas is chlorine, due to its ease of use. However, chlorination is often difficult to implement because of training requirements to properly store, handle, and apply chlorine. Also, the harmful effects of its disinfection by-products make its implementation ethically questionable when alternatives are available. The new technology that is being investigated is the use of iron oxides to enhance virus removal. Iron oxide has been shown to effectively remove viruses from water.

Expected Results:

We propose a research and implementation project that potentially solves an important issue for water purification by slow sand filtration, virus removal utilizing iron oxide. The distribution of an adequate, consistent, and clean water supply to Socorro will also include the development of a comprehensive sustainability program. The development of this program benefits not only the proposed project, but also educational aspects for participating students and local community. The system is build with local materials and is designed so that the local community will be able to operate without external help. Thus, the proposed project will provide improvement of quality of life for the local community.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 9 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

waterborne pathogens, virus, iron oxide,

Relevant Websites:

Phase 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2010 Progress Report
  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    Virus Removal in Biosand Filters for Rural Mayan Communities  | 2011 Progress Report