‘Malunggay’ studied as water filter
The humble “malunggay” (Moringa oleifera) could make waves when it comes to the Philippines’ water purification industry, thanks to a research initiative headed by a Manila university in partnership with a Canada-based Filipino educator.
Malunggay’s potential as a water filter is being tapped by a joint research project of De La Salle University (DLSU) on Taft Avenue in Manila, University of Waterloo in Canada and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The researchers hope to come up with a cheap and easy-to-use water filtration system that could provide water even to remote rural communities in the Philippines.
The Barangay Water Project uses malunggay seeds packed with an adsorbent, such as sand, carbonized rice husk or activated carbon, to create a “point-of-use biofilter that can either be used at home or in small communities, like a school, for purifying drinking water,” Canada-based Sheree Pagsuyoin, the project’s lead investigator, said in an e-mail interview.
Pagsuyoin is also an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
The project is funded by a grant from Grand Challenges Canada, a government program that aids research on global health issues in Canada and developing countries.
Pagsuyoin, who secured the grant, got in touch with Raymond Tan, DLSU vice chancellor for innovation and research, to form and head the Philippine team that would work on the project.
Pagsuyoin said the team chose to develop a water biofilter because “water treatment technologies are much needed in many low-income regions, especially in rural areas.”
“But we also recognize that these technologies should be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable for them to be effective over the long term,” she added.
“We chose moringa because it is already widely known in the Philippines for its many other uses. Thus it will be easier to introduce the concept,” said Pagsuyoin, who has worked on other water and sanitation projects in rural areas in the Philippines and South Africa.
Previous studies on the use of malunggay seeds for water purification showed that these had proteins containing antimicrobial and coagulant properties that can kill coliform and remove turbidity in water, she said.
The seeds, however, also produce other organic elements that affect long-term storage of the treated water.
“Our goal with the biofilter is to harness the [seeds’] proteins’ antimicrobial properties while eliminating these organics,” Pagsuyoin said.
She said she had yet to complete lab experiments and the filter’s final design in Canada with the help of a DLSU graduate student, engineer John Barajas.
Luis F. Razon, director of the DLSU Food and Water Institute and a member of the research team, likened the expected final product design to that of a Brita filter, which is small and cylindrical.
The filter, Razon said, would be packed with malunggay seeds and adsorbents. One would just need to pour the contaminated water through the filter to remove the impurities.
Razon said the DLSU team would test the malunggay biofilter in July or August in Mulanay, a small seaside municipality in the Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province, where the university previously worked in other projects.
In August 2014, Razon headed focus group discussions with 150 to 200 Mulanay residents to find out their main concerns about drinking water.
“What stood out to me was how they described the taste of the water they fetched from local wells—matabsing, which means an acrid and sort of salty taste. They were also aware that there were harmful bacteria in the water and that they could get sick from drinking it,” Razon said.
“So aside from creating a biofilter [that] can take out the impurities, we have to make sure that the water will also taste good,” he added.
Mulanay’s water supply comes from a mountain spring that Razon said tested positive for E. coli bacteria. So far, the team has been unable to determine why the water source is contaminated, Razon said.
If all goes well with the product testing in Mulanay, Razon said, the team hoped to bring the filter to more rural communities in the country that need potable water.
Razon said the researchers were also studying the biofilter’s marketability. Joost Santos, an assistant professor at George Washington University, is heading the feasibility study on the commercial production of the malunggay biofilter, Razon said.
“Personally, if the biofilter would be commercialized, I think it would be better for quality control. But, of course, we won’t limit it to that. Another option would be for someone to make his own biofilter and use it to treat water, which he could then sell,” Razon said.
“There are other possible uses, say, during a storm, when people are in need of clean water, they can use the biofilter,” he said.
The success of the Barangay Water Project, however, won’t just depend on the filter’s effectiveness, but on the community’s attitude toward using the filter, Razon said. For one, the community would need to have a steady supply of malunggay, which Mulanay has.
“[From past experiences], I’ve come to recognize that intervention technologies designed to improve the water and health status of low-income communities must be integrated into the locals’ daily activities,” Pagsuyoin said.
“Moringa has many other uses and livelihood can stem from encouraging its cultivation,” she added.
“It’s easy to work with Mulanay [residents] because they have become so used to consultative work. They’re good at organizing themselves. It is easy to instruct them to form groups, work in teams,” Razon said.
“It’s important that the community is organized, ready to receive the technology and willing to provide information. The local government has to be receptive,” he said.
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