Can children help solve the problem of fluorosis that affects nearly 60 lakh [6 million] Indians? One start-up thinks it can.

Sensors Without Borders (SWB), a Chennai-based start-up headed by a Hyderabadi, is utilising another start-up’s invention to test for fluoride using an inexpensive kit and a smart phone. When testing shows the presence of fluoride beyond acceptable levels, SWBs intends for its partner organisations to deploy fluoride filters that will make safe the drinking water. Making available a low-cost testing solution in fluoride-endemic areas like Nalgonda, is SWB’s objective, says its founder Sriram Reddy.

“Excessive fluoride intake primarily from a contaminated water source and secondarily from food (from crops irrigated with contaminated water) results first in dental fluorosis causing disfigurement and weakening of teeth,” he said.

“Higher dosages lead to severely debilitating skeletal fluorosis creating a whole generation of stunted children and adults crippled in the arms and legs.”

Sample studies

Numerous sample studies done over the last five decades have found fluoride levels higher than the permitted 2 milligrams/litre.

A study published in 2009 found children across the district with dental fluorosis residing in areas where water concentration of fluoride was under 0.6 ppm.

Despite the low concentration, the high incidence of dental fluorosis was attributed to fluoride intake through food.

At the heart of SWBs programme is the Caddisfly, a device manufactured by a Bengaluru-based start-up called Ternup that can measure dissolved minerals, including iron, fluoride, nitrate, arsenic and the bacteria E.Coli.

Pilot project

SWB launched a pilot project in Marriguda mandal of Nalgonda district between November 27 and December 12, 2015, collecting data from over 120 locations in the mandal.

Following interpolation, sources that are found to supply water with fluoride greater than 1 ppm are cross-marked in red to indicate they are unsafe.

The SWB has launched a crowd-funding initiative with an aim to collect Rs. 1 lakh in order to help schoolchildren take up the task of testing the water and informing their parents about unsafe drinking water.

“In fluoride-affected areas, we have seen that when children get involved in testing of water, and when they understand that both their stained teeth and the condition of older people in their community have common root cause i.e. unsafe water, then they wake up,” Mr. Reddy replied when asked why children are being roped in for the job.