The discovery could have a huge impact on developing nations where clean water is scarce, but is it really safe?
A recent study found that adding silica to titanium dioxide nanoparticles and mixing the compound with water kills three times more viruses than typical disinfection methods.
Titanium dioxide is considered safe and has been used to kill viruses and bacteria, and to decompose organics via photocatalysis for many years. With this simple treatment, it could be made more effective with almost no increase in cost. With an increased ability to degrade aerosol- and water-borne viruses, the silicone additive could have major implications for developing nations where water is typically disinfected through exposure to sunlight for its heat and ultraviolet radiation.
Andrew Barron, a professor of materials science and chemistry at Rice University, considers the discovery’s potential benefits to society as being far more important than commercialization:
Disinfecting a volume of water that once took an hour would now take minutes because of the material's enhanced catalytic punch, Barron said in a press release. "We chose the Yangtze River as our baseline for testing, because it's considered the most polluted river in the world, with the highest viral content," he said. "Even at that level of viral contamination, we're getting complete destruction of the viruses in water that matches the level of pollution in the Yangtze."
Titanium dioxide (TiO2[P25]) is a naturally occurring material that's used as a pigment in paints, sunscreen and even food coloring. Unfortunately, it's also been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen ''possibly carcinogen to humans''. The IARC based this conclusion on evidence that showed high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation.
Yuck. Doesn't sound like something you'd want to mix into your drinking water, does it? But then again, no one wants to be drinking water-borne viruses either. Our suggestion would be to avoid the carcinogen-flavored beverages and opt for advanced (and affordable) water filtration techniques powered by renewable energy instead.
What's yours? Share your ideas in a comment!
Image Credit: Flickr - a_rabin