Taos High Students Filter Antibiotics From Water

Jun 16, 2014

Taos High School Students (from left) Julia Johnson, Andrea Chin-Lopez, James Valerio and Anthony Archuleta
Credit Laura Tenoria

Taos High School students are pitching a water-cleaning project in a national science competition called eCYBERMISSION this week in D.C. The prize? $25,000 and the chance to help the U.S. get antibiotics out of its water supply.

Students at Taos High have figured out how use crushed blue crab shells to create filters that remove antibiotics from water. They used the crustacean shells to create Chitosan, which is commonly used in agriculture, medicine and industry. 

They conducted experiments, and eventually, one pass through their filters removed 60 to 68 percent of amoxicillin and ampicillin from the water. Chitosan can be inexpensive to work with; each filter cost only about $3.70 to make.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been finding residues of pharmaceuticals contaminating the drinking water. Taos student Julia Johnson said people flush their excess pills, plus livestock around the country consume antibiotics—and it all ends up in the water supply.

 Antibiotics are particularly troubling, because they might give rise to drug-resistant bacteria. Johnson pointed out, there are also other dangers. "One of our team members, he has an allergic reaction to antibiotics if digested," she said. "If there's enough of those antibiotics in the water, he could get very sick. So that's something that hits close to home." 

In the long run, the students are hoping to push for legislation to include antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals on the list of substances tested for under the Safe Water Drinking Act.

We’ll keep you updated on the team’s progress later on this week.