If you live in Bangladesh, you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying from chronic arsenic poisoning. In a misguided attempt to provide fresh drinking water in the 1970s, aid agencies dug wells across the entire country, accidentally exposing millions of people to dangerously high levels of the poison that happen to occur naturally in local soil.
Now a social enterprise called PurifAid hopes to help with a technology inspired by Scotch whisky. The idea, called a “DRAM,” was originally created by a Scottish researcher who discovered that by mixing a byproduct of the whisky-making process with a secret ingredient, she could clean pollutants from water. The technique is now in use in the U.K. to clean water at industrial facilities.
The DRAM promises simplification: Instead of keeping a filter at home, the DRAM unit will be installed directly in a well. Within five minutes, it can remove 95% of the arsenic from the water, along with other pollutants. It’s also cheaper than alternatives, since the coconut shells and rice husks used in the filter would have ended up as waste anyway. Each filter cartridge lasts four to six months, and when it’s popped out of the top of a well, it can be used as biofuel. Little other maintenance is needed, and everything runs on gravity, so no electricity is required.