Clean Water, Little Fuss: PATH and Cascade Designs Bring Purifiers to Africa

7/14/09

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waterborne disease agents. Cascade’s technology is also remarkably friendly to the environment; it uses no toxic chemicals and very little energy.

Working together, PATH and Cascade scaled up the purification system. “It was a team effort all the way through,” Chappell said. The prototype could clean 20 liters of water at a time, a process that takes only two minutes. In December of 2008, the prototype was taken to Korogocho, Kenya, a slum area in Nairobi, and given to the main community organization, the Redeemed Gospel Church. The program members stayed long enough to train residents how to use the prototype, although it is fairly straightforward. “All that you do is push a button,” McLaughlin said. The unit requires just batteries, water, and salt, enabling the poor community to clean a lot of water quickly and easily.

Korogocho was chosen not just because of the state of its water resources, but because PATH has an office nearby to help monitor the usage and effectiveness of the prototype. The water used in the system comes from Nairobi, which provides some water treatment, but the city water isn’t always drinkable. And when water is unavailable from the city, the village can now buy water from merchants, even if it is unclean, since they can clean it themselves. “They can even sell water to outsiders,” Chappell said.

Last month, after further refinement, the PATH and Cascade team returned to the village to deliver a new prototype and to get feedback on the previous model. Funding for the new refinements came from the Lemelson Foundation. The villagers were generally pleased with the system, McLaughlin said, and had suggestions mainly on how to improve the looks of the device.

The partnership’s next step is to try out the prototypes at multiple locations and then, if successful, sell the systems to the proper organizations and groups. All the profits from the purifiers will go to Cascade, but the partnership with PATH with not end there. “This program is the base of the pyramid,” McLaughlin said. Related projects include testing water treatment storage over time and trying to simulate different types of dirty water in order to make better purifiers. There are just two types of EPA test water, “kind of clean and extremely dirty,” Chappell said. More realistic test water types for lab use are important for future research, she added.

Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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