Could Prickly Pear Cactus Be The Secret to Cheap, Clean Water?

cactus up close photo

Photo via kretyen via Flickr CC

Millions of people lack access to clean water globally, and that lack of access - or rather, access to unsafe drinking water - kills as many as 15 people per minute. We have many options for filtering water, but a primary problem with clean water technologies is they're expensive and not simple to maintain once placed where they're needed. Yet, that could change. By using a cactus found commonly worldwide, a team of researchers have devised what could be a solution for access to clean water. According to New Scientist, the prickly pear cactus could be key to cheap, clean water globally - or at least that's the hope of Norma Alcantar at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She and her team extracted the gum used by the cactus to store water. When mixed with water that had high levels of sediment or the bacterium Bacillus cereus, the gum caused the sediment and bacteria to settle at the bottom of water samples, filtering out 98% of the contaminants.

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The researchers think that by boiling a slice of cactus and adding it to the water needing purification, a household could have the cheapest, easiest solution to clean water where other more advanced technologies are unavailable.

Questions remain, however, on when a household would know when the bacteria is filtered out, as well as what variety of contaminants this could filter. If it can't filter the bacteria, pollution and viruses common in drinking water, then it isn't the simple solution hoped for. And of course, there's an issue of having enough cactus available. More research is needed, but this could be an excellent supplement for areas or times when other options are simply not around.

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