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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note/Fashionable Filters

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a cheap and simple method to filter out cholera bacteria from contaminated water.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, big bucks out of a big mess. A grocery chain converts food waste into cash.

First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: Cholera is a disease that continues to ravage developing nations. The waterborne illness is caused by a bacterium that thrives on plankton. Now, an international team of researchers may have found a cheap, yet effective, way to cut the incidence of cholera.

Working in Bangladesh, these scientists found that saris, the traditional dress of women in that part of the world, can effectively filter out plankton and therefore, cholera bacteria from water. Old saris work best since repeated launderings shrank the pore size of the cloth. And the sari had to be folded over eight times to make a fine enough filter.

Women in about two dozen villages were trained to place the folded saris over the tops of pots before collecting water. Another group of villages used nylon filters and a third control group used no filters. Women were also told how to rinse off the filters after each use, and field workers checked in on the villages every couple weeks.

After three years, the villages using nylon filters had reduced their cholera rate by 40 percent, but the sari cloth did even better, cutting the cholera rate in half. And in a poverty-stricken village, sari cloth has two other advantages: it’s cheap and readily available.

That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Patricia” Mambo Sinuendo, Nonesuch (2003)]



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