History of Low-Cost Ceramic Water Filters

Ceramics have been used to store household drinking water for thousands of years. However, the use of porous ceramics to filter parasites, bacteria and particulates from drinking water is more recent.  There are several types of very effective ceramic materials on the market for filtering potable water. Unfortunately, these filters are commonly too expensive to address the problem of delivering safe drinking water to people in marginalized communities.

In 1981 Dr. Fernando Mazariegos of the Central American Industrial Research Institute addressed this problem by designing a porous clay filter. A crucially important aspect of this technology is that it could be made by local potters in Guatemala and offered the potential for a sustainable technology.  In 1994, the Family Foundation of the Americas did a health study to determine the effect of Dr. Mazariegos’s hand thrown water filter in Guatemala. The results showed that the filters resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of diarrhea in households involved with the project.

Potters for Peace (PFP) was founded in 1986 and began work with Mika Seeger in Nicaragua in 1988. PFP hired Ron Rivera to coordinate their exchange activities in Nicaragua in 1989.  At this time, PFP was not heavily involved in the production of the low-cost water filters, although Rivera did work with the Mazariegos water filter in Ecuador.  In 1998, PFP became much more involved in the development of the low-cost water filter in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in Central America.  They organized the Filtron workshop in Nicaragua, which made 5,000 filters that were distributed through local NGOs. This activity resulted in a privately owned filter production facility near Managua and inspired successful training programs that have set up filter production facilities in many countries around the world.  PFP and its volunteers have also been heavily involved in technical developments concerning the filters, the clay formulations, filter presses and kilns.  An example of the latter is the “Mani Kiln” designed by Professor Manny Hernandez of Northern Illinois University, which has reduced the amount of fuel needed for a wood-fired kiln by 50%. PFP ceramic filter activities continue today.  Other Organizations such as Potters without Borders, Resource Development International – Cambodia, Ceramic Water Filter Solutions, Potters Water Action Group, EcoFiltro, Wine to Water and Spouts of Water have also used the PFP model to established filter production facilities in countries such as Yemen, Guatemala, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Dominican Republic and Cambodia.  

We acknowledge that we may not have a comprehensive knowledge of the history of the subject.  If the reader is aware of further information on water filter activities that are not mentioned above, please contact Dr. Nettleship at the address below.  Furthermore, if the above account misrepresents important developments, please contact us.  Thanks. 

- Ian Nettleship