A fast colour-changing test that detects fluoride in drinking water could help prevent the crippling bone disease skeletal fluorosis in developing countries, say UK researchers. Jim Drury has more.
STORY: Six-year-old Kurianga suffers from skeletal fluorosis, a crippling condition caused by too much fluoride in drinking water. He's one of many casualties in the Tanzanian town of Oldonyosambu. In untreated wells water can dissolve fluoride when passing certain minerals. In Oldonyosambu fluoride levels more than 60 times recommended limits have been found. It affects those of all ages, but children suffer most. University of Bath researchers want to help. SOUNDBITE (English) DR SIMON LEWIS, UNIVERSITY OF BATH, SAYING: "Skeletal fluorosis is a really devastating, crippling condition whereby bones are attacked by the fluoride, and when children drink water with too much fluoride in the long term they can actually end up with very severe skeletal deformities....We've come up with a molecule which changes colour when it's exposed to fluoride.... It doesn't require a laboratory. It doesn't require any specialist equipment. It doesn't require a person who's been highly trained to use any equipment, it doesn't require power supply. In fact it doesn't even require the user to be literate." When added to water samples the molecule changes colour from purple to blue if fluoride levels are too high. SOUNDBITE (English) DR JANNIS WENK, UNIVERSITY OF BATH, SAYING: "In this case the colour changes almost instantaneously. So with fluoride it's surrounded by water molecules. After a couple of minutes or even 30 seconds there the results will be there." The technology is in the proof-of-concept stage, but the team hopes to develop non-liquid test strips, similar to litmus paper. These would alert locals when it's time to replace their water filters. The researchers have teamed up with the Nasio Trust charity and are seeking commercial partners. They also plan to adapt the technology to other water contaminants, such as mercury and lead.