GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A scientist from a Swiss university thinks he has come up with a potential cheap fix to the Flint water crisis.
Raffaele Mezzenga, an Italian, heads up the Laboratory of Food and Soft Materials at ETH Zurich. Monday, he published the results of a two-year water filter project in a journal called Nature Nanotechnology. His prototype filter is relatively simple: It’s a paper-like membrane packed with carbon and processed milk proteins that grabs heavy metals, like lead, as polluted water passes through.
It worked in his lab. Now the question is whether the results could hold up in real-life circumstances.
In a Skype interview from Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, Mezzenga told 24 Hour News 8 that his method could be part of the solution for the city of Flint. The water there was contaminated with lead after the city switched its water source in April 2014 and its aging pipes were damaged.
Originally, Mezzenga’s testing was focused on removing mercury from water. But he said also tested the filter on water with 65 parts per million of lead and found the lead quantity dropped to 0.02 ppm after going through the membranes. Water with below 15 ppm is considered safe for consumption.
“The membrane works just perfectly on lead,” Mezzenga said.
Mezzenga said the cost to clean 90,000 liters (more than 23,775 gallons) of water, which is more than a person could drink their entire life, would be less than $100. The paper-like membranes would go on faucets and could be installed by residents.
“Because the components are very, very cheap and because the technology is very, very simple, I do hope that this can be rapidly amended to solve problems the one right now going on in Flint,” Mezzenga said.
Mezzenga has not been contacted by anyone from the state of Michigan, but said he is open to helping the people of Flint. He said if he was asked to install the filters, he could have them running in less than a month.
“If we have resources, if we had people working on that, if we could buy the starting material, I would honestly imagine it’s just only weeks,” he said.
The filters have not been tested on a large scale and Mezzenga has not worked up the costs for large-scale production and distribution to a city like Flint.