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Defluoridation of Water


The Project Defluoridation of Water aims to develop affordable technology to remove excess fluoride in drinking water for rural communities in India, where there is a dearth of access to even very basic resources, like proper nutrition, education, and clean drinking water. The project proposes to develop and test the technology, scaling it up to a pilot test with a capacity of 500 L per day of safe drinking water. The team will collaborate closely with Indian partners who are currently funded in India through the Tata–Harvard project. It will address the questions of financial viability, technical feasibility, and cultural appropriateness.


Those who consume water that contains high levels of fluoride risk developing dental and skeletal fluorosis, the latter of which is a devastatingly crippling disease that most heavily affects children. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a maximum contaminant level of fluoride at 1.5 ppm of fluoride F- ions. Since 2014, the research group has developed fluoride adsorption media that utilizes inexpensively processed Indian bauxite. However, a technology based on this media remains to be developed and demonstrated. 


India has over 66 million people facing the risk of developing fluorosis, but it is home to the fifth largest bauxite deposit at 3,037 million tonnes. Thus far, the project team has demonstrated that mildly-processed bauxite can remediate high fluoride concentrations down to safe levels in electrolytes representative of contaminated groundwater. This study is the first to go beyond presenting remediation results by systematically investigating the factors governing performance of diversely-sourced bauxite ores. It has also demonstrated that, regardless of the bauxite source or the groundwater matrix used, fluoride removal with bauxite ore is approximately 20 to 30 times less expensive than with activated alumina, suggesting that the use of bauxite can tremendously improve access to safe water in impoverished rural fluoride-affected communities.

In 2019, contaminated water samples from Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, were sent to INREM and ICT-Mumbai for analysis. Talks, data collection, and field visits with INREM, ICT, and partner Sattva took place over the course of the year. Samples were frequently forwarded to the Berkeley Lab for a variety of absorption and characterization studies on bauxite samples, conducted by the project’s research assistants.

Looking Ahead

The project will continue laboratory research to optimize bauxite processing cost and fluoride removal efficiency.

A member of the Defluoridation of Water project team shows a test tube of water that has been tested for fluoride.