H2bid Blog

Water Purification Through A Straw

The problem of water-born disease in the developing world is a serious one; each day over 6,000 people – most of them children – die from these illnesses. In fact, the world’s number one killer is diarrheal disease brought on by such bacteria as cholera, E. coli, salmonella and typhoid. Bringing safe drinking water to areas of the world that lack electricity has been a challenge but a Swiss company is hoping to change that. Vestergaard Frandsen has developed a low-cost, highly-effective personal water purifier called Lifestraw.

Lifestraw is a cleverly designed human powered filter; it uses a series of filters coupled with iodine-coated beads and an activated charcoal filter. With no moving parts and powered only by the act of sucking water through a straw, each Lifestraw can purify up to 700 liters of water. When the user sucks water into Lifestraw, the water first encounters a 100-micron mesh that removes large particles and bacteria colonies; a second 15-micron mesh also removes large bacteria and parasites. The water then passes through a chamber housing beads with an iodine coating and continues into an open chamber where the iodine continues to act in the water. The iodine kills most bacteria still remaining after the filters. Finally, the water passes through an activated charcoal filter that traps parasites and removes some of the iodine taste from the water. While there is still a considerable amount of iodine in the purified water, most people living in the developing world suffer from iodine deficiency. Lifestraw water can make up about 50-75% of the iodine needed in the human diet.

Even the cleaning and maintenance of Lifestraw is simple. To clean the Lifestraw, users are asked to regularly blow through it; the blowing action dislodges any buildup on the filter mesh. The exterior can be wiped clean with a dry cloth. Built from a durable plastic that resists mildew and bacteria, the Lifestraw can easily last for it’s one-year filter life. The cost of Lifestraw is amazing, as well – only $2 US. For what many people pay for a soda or a cup of coffee, one year of safe drinking water can be provided to another human being.

Currently, Lifestraw is employed in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda where it is showing effective results in reducing deaths from water-born illness. In addition to use in the developing world, Lifestraw has found favor in use after natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Wenchuan, China. After the earthquake, aid agencies and others were able to rush thousands of Lifestraws to badly affected areas and towns, removing dysentery as a concern and allowing the Chinese authorities to focus on tending to the injured and shoring up damaged structures.

While Lifestraw effectively kills or removes many bacteria and viruses including cholera, typhoid, E. coli and E. faecalis, it cannot currently remove Giardia lamblia – the parasite responsible for what is referred to as ‘beaver fever’ in the West. Vestergaard Frandsen is currently developing technology that will also remove Giardia from drinking water but the task is complicated by the fact that giardia is iodine-resistant and less than 5 micron in size.

At a cost of two dollars, Lifestraw represents a major opportunity to reduce disease in the developing world. When coupled with other inexpensive, easy-to-use technologies such as insecticidal mosquito nets, the Lifestraw may help turn the corner on improving both the life span and quality of life for millions – perhaps even billions – around the globe.

For more information, or to donate a Lifestraw, please visit http://www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw-p-donations.htm . There are several organizations including the Rotary Club International and IMA that distribute Lifestraws to those in need.