Toxic synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and pharmaceutical residues are a major threat to drinking water safety worldwide. Unfortunately, major international water development initiatives focus exclusively on microbial pathogens (the most immediate threat to health) while neglecting synthetic chemical toxins. Low-cost, environmentally sustainable and locally managed treatment technologies are needed to protect human health in impoverished, rural and remote communities. Our ongoing research demonstrates the potential of char made from surplus biomass (biochar) as an effective sorbent for chemical toxins. We have shown that highly adsorbing biochar can be produced from surplus biomass using low-tech, efficient and environmentally friendly gasifier drum ovens. Our work advances sustainable and locally managed treatment systems employing adsorbent biochar as an effective, affordable and accessible means for providing drinking water that is microbiologically and chemically safe to households and communities in remote and impoverished regions of the world.