Battery-operated pen quickly disinfects drinking water

May 23, 2000

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a battery-operated pen that can quickly turn a simple salt solution into a powerful concoction of oxidants that can safely disinfect drinking water. They report their findings today at the 100th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

"Disinfection of personal water supplies is a critical need during disasters, civilian or military conflicts and in wilderness recreation. Often, chemical disinfectants such as chlorine and fuels to boil water are not available," says Mark Sobsey, lead investigator in this study. "We developed this battery-powered disinfection pen to electrochemically generate mixed oxidants from a salt solution for individual use to disinfect drinking water."

The new technology was evaluated for its ability to inactivate waterborne parasites, viruses and bacteria. Several alternative pen cell designs were tested by seeding mixed oxidant solutions generated from the pen with test microbes, including highly chlorine-resistant Cryptosporidium parvum, and measuring the inactivation that occurred over time. There was dramatic (>99.99%) reduction of all test bacteria and viruses within one to ten minutes. Considerable inactivation of C. parvum was also achieved by ninety minutes, the amount depending on the design of the pen cell.

The results of these studies demonstrate that an optimally designed, miniature pen cell electrochemically generates a mixture of oxidants from a salt solution that is able to extensively inactivate C. parvum oocysts as well as bacterial spores, bacteria and viruses to produce safer drinking water in minutes. Therefore, the pen cell makes it possible for people to easily and quickly have safe supplies of personal drinking water in remote and isolated areas and during situations where drinking water supplies and other accessible water sources are at risk of being contaminated.

The laboratory work for this project was completed at the School of Public Health, Environmental Health Microbiology Laboratories at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under the direction of Professor Mark D. Sobsey, an environmental health microbiologist. Laboratory experiments were performed by two doctoral students, Maren E. Anderson and Julie A. Kase. The project was funded by MIOX Corporation of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This release is a summary of a presentation from the 100th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, May 21-25, 2000, in Los Angeles. Additional information on these and other presentations at the 100th ASM General Meeting can be found online at or by contacting Jim Sliwa in the ASM Office of Communications.
The phone number for the General Meeting Press Room is 213-765-4660 and will be active from 10:00 a.m., May 21 until 12:00 noon, May 25.

American Society for Microbiology

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