A simple colour-changing test to detect fluoride in drinking water could help prevent skeletal fluorosis, the crippling bone disease, in developing countries like India, says a study. While low amounts of fluoride are beneficial for healthy teeth, high levels of fluoride can weaken bones, leading to skeletal fluorosis. This disease causes crippling deformities of the spine and joints, especially in children whose skeletons are still forming.
“Whilst a small amount of fluoride is good for your teeth and prevents tooth decay, high levels are toxic and can cause crippling deformities that are irreversible,” said lead researcher Simon Lewis from University of Bath in Britain. When water passes over certain minerals, it can dissolve fluoride, which results in elevated levels of fluoride in drinking water sources in parts of India, China, East Africa, and North America.
Levels of fluoride in drinking water are routinely monitored and controlled at treatment works in developed countries. However in areas of the world where there is no piped water system or treatment works, people rely on drawing untreated water from wells, which can often be contaminated with higher than recommended levels of fluoride. The amounts of fluoride in the groundwater can vary due to weather events, with levels fluctuating hugely when there is a lot of rain.
The new research published in the journal Chemical Communications details a simple colour-changing test that detects high levels of fluoride quickly and selectively. “Most water quality monitoring systems need a lab and power supply and a trained operator to work them. What we’ve developed is a molecule that simply changes colour in a few minutes which can tell you whether the level of fluoride is too high,” Lewis said.
“This technology is in the very early stages, but we’d like to develop this technology into test strips, similar to litmus paper, that allow people without any scientific training to perform a test that is low cost, rapid and robust,” Lewis added.