Is this water safe to drink? Israeli startup lets you know
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Is this water safe to drink? Israeli startup lets you know

Sensor created by Jerusalem-based Lishtot can detect and alert users to water contamination in seconds, company says

Illustrative image of a glass of water (pinkomelet, IStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a glass of water (pinkomelet, IStock by Getty Images)

Drinking water is generally tested at source, but before it reaches our glasses it passes through miles of old pipes — so, in effect, we have no control over the water we imbibe.

“We want to try to give you a tool to change the equation,” said Netanel Raisch, the CEO and co-founder of Lishtot Detection Ltd., in a phone interview.

Lishtot is the Hebrew word for “to drink”

The Jerusalem-based company, which was founded in 2015, has developed the TestDrop, a key chain-like device that the company says detects contaminants in water such as E. coli, lead, arsenic, mercury, copper and chlorine in just two seconds. All users need to do is point the device at a plastic glass filled with water and bingo: if the device lights up in blue, you have the all-clear to drink. But if the light is red, then stop because something is wrong.

“We can also tell if someone has spit in your water, which is always good to know,” offered Raisch.

Another co-founder, Alan Bauer, developed the technology after discovering that the electric fields in water change when contamination is present, explained Raisch.

The company has developed sensors that can detect these changes in the electric fields. When water is contaminated with heavy metals, chemicals, or even bacteria, the company’s sensors detect changes in the electric fields. Algorithms developed by the firm interpret the information and provide the results, including an alert when there is something in the water that shouldn’t be there.

“Right now, we have confirmed in our labs and with third party labs and industrial partners that the technology can detect over 20 different contaminants” at standards dictated by the US Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization, Raisch said.

The TestDrop, which sells for $49.95, connects via Bluetooth to the Lishtot mobile app, where users can track their test history, view more data on their water, including the likelihood of contamination, and distinguish between bottled water, tap water, and natural water from rivers and streams. The results of the test, with pictures and location, can then be sent via Bluetooth to the Global Water Quality Map that the company is creating.

“We want to create a platform for drinking water quality data and information,” said Raisch. “People have no idea what’s in their water and it’s the second most essential resource that nearly everyone on the planet pays for in one way or another. We think people deserve to know more about the water they drink.”

He said he hopes to make Lishtot the go-to place for info about water.

Water quality is one of the “main challenges” faced by society, threatening human health, curbing food production, and hampering economic growth, according to UNESCO, the United Nations arm for international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. One in nine people worldwide uses drinking water from unimproved and unsafe sources. The organization just this month set up a new World Water Quality Portal that issues information on the quality of freshwater globally, using remote sensing data.

Illustration of a mother using the Lishtot device to check water for contaminants (Courtesy)

Raisch  said the data collected by Lishtot from users will “eventually be the most valuable aspect” of the firm.

The product is already being sold via the company’s website and Raisch said  the firm has agreements with distributors globally for the sale of some 100,000 units.

Lishtot, which has been producing its devices in Israel, is now looking to scale up its manufacturing capabilities to meet demand, he said. The US is the main market the company is focusing on, said Raisch, but India also has huge potential. Raisch has just come back from a visit to the Asian giant, as part of a delegation of businesspeople who traveled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month.

“We have customers in India and we are building business relations,” he said, including being in touch with academia for joint research projects locally.

So, besides alerting customers about water contamination, will the company also advise people on how to purify the water they are drinking if they find contamination?

Not at the moment, Raisch said. “But we will advise customers about solutions in future.”

In rural areas globally there is generally no choice because there is no other source of water, he explained. “But 90 percent of the world actually does have an option to choose between one water source or another.” And that 90 percent is the main market for Lishtot, he said.

It takes at least 24 hours for authorities to put out a boil-water advisory when they suspect water contamination, Raisch said. In some cases – like in Flint, Michigan, where some 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water due to poor water treatment, the process can take years.

“We can detect it in two seconds,” he said. And if the company gets wind of contamination from a user, it could upload the information immediately and send out alerts to all those who have downloaded their app, he said. “We can give them real time instructions about whether to drink or not to drink.”

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