Using nanotechnology to make water safe for drinking could transform the lives of many people in developing countries, but research is needed to assess the potential health and environmental risks, say Thembela Hillie and Mbhuti Hlophe in this Nature Nanotechnology article.
Nanotechnology water treatment devices may solve the technical challenges associated with water purification. A variety of membranes and filters already use materials such as carbon nanotubes and nanoporous ceramics to purify water.
Recent tests have also shown that nanoscale membranes could successfully treat brackish groundwater — though calcium and magnesium had to be added after treatment to meet the WHO drinking water standard.
The authors emphasise that technical solutions will be irrelevant unless the technology is adopted and adapted to take account of local conditions, knowledge and capacity. Direct technology transfer will fail, they say.
They also warn that some studies have suggested that the unique properties of nanomaterials may make them toxic. The risks and benefits must be carefully weighed.