UNBC researches potential water treatment solutions of Moringa tree

April 15, 2016

UNBC researchers are looking into the viability of using “the miracle tree” as a point-of-use water treatment. The Moringa oleifera is a tropical tree and gets its moniker from the many uses of all parts of the tree.

Moringa is antimicrobial; various parts of the plant have been used to treat typhoid, and faecal coliforms in water. The medicinal value of the roots, as well as the tree’s rapid growth, could make them a practical, sustainable and inexpensive water treatment method.

Ecosystem Science and Management professor Dr. Chris Opio and his graduate student Chandehl Morgan are investigating if powdered roots kill bacteria in water, and if the treated water meets Canadian drinking water guidelines. This could lead to the development of a water treatment solution that could be used in at-risk communities, such as rural First Nations.

They recently harvested the tree roots at the I.K. Barber Enhanced Forestry Lab.
Lack of access to safe drinking water is a significant issue; the United Nations and World Health Organization report that 663 million people live without access to safe water. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation conditions results in the spread of diseases and the death of more than 840,000 people each year. Waterborne diseases disproportionately affect those in marginalized societies, such as rural First Nations communities in Canada.

Roots from Moringa trees have been grown in the UNBC greenhouse and will be harvested and placed in two treatment categories: fresh and dry. The bark will be peeled off the roots, and the roots powdered.

Water that is contaminated with E.coli will be treated with Moringa root powder to determine whether Moringa has any effect on E.coli. Different concentrations of Moringa will be applied in different water samples to determine optimal Moringa concentration. The root powder will also be added to distilled water to determine if the powder adds any chemicals or organics to water. The water will be analyzed for all pH, electrical conductivity, chemicals and organics. The data will be used to determine whether the water meets Canadian guidelines and is safe for human consumption.

This research will fill a gap in existing literature about Moringa. If successful, it could be good news for people living without access to clean water. It could be applied in First Nations communities in Northern B.C. and across Canada that do not have access to traditional water treatment, and where their remote location makes installing traditional systems difficult and expensive. It could further be applied in developing countries, or as a response during emergency situations.

Above: Ecosystem Science and Management professor Dr. Chris Opio and his graduate student Chandehl Morgan wash the Moringa tree roots.