September 2, 2005 3:40 PM PDT

Technology may quench thirst for drinking water

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Hurricane cleanup could take months, years

August 31, 2005
A plastic tube and a fluorescent light could turn out to be two crucial components for getting drinking water back in New Orleans.

The UV-Tube, a low-cost water disinfecting system, is the sort of technology that disaster relief agencies may begin to turn to in the arduous cleanup in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Other ideas include cheaper systems to test water and, further in the future, new styles of chemical purifiers.

The UV-Tube--which kills germs in water with an ultraviolet light bulb--costs about $70 to put together, can be assembled from components that are fairly easy to find, and can be run off of a solar panel, key in an area where the electrical grid has crumbled.

UV Tube

More importantly, it can process about five liters of water per minute.

"If you run the system throughout the day, you can get drinking water for hundreds of people," said graduate student Micah Lang at the University of California, Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

So far, there are no plans to take the tube to the Gulf Coast, but that could change as the cleanup will likely last for months, said Dan Kammen, a professor in the energy and resources group at Berkeley who oversees the project.

The team recently conducted a round of field tests with a solar-powered version of the tube in a tsunami-ravaged village in Sri Lanka and in rural villages in Baja California. The tests have gone quite well, Lang and Kammen said.

"It is a great way to kill most of the pathogens in decaying fecal matter," said Kammen. "The situation looks very much like the tsunami. There are a whole bunch of technologies for this, but most of them are energy intensive."

Water quality generally isn't something most people in western nations think about until it's too late. The topic, however, has begun to percolate inside the tech community as part of the push into using clean technologies such as solar power and alternative energy.

Like with oil, some experts believe that the growing consumption will begin to stress existing supplies of drinkable water. Some start-ups have proposed nanotechnology solutions for purifying water, while others are promoting ways futuristic scenarios in which hydrogen extracted from seawater can power desalination.

For the more immediate future, there are technologies like WaterPoint from Michigan's Sensicore. The handheld device contains a sensor that can test for inorganic impurities, such as ammonia, and test water quality in four minutes, according to director of marketing Uwe Michalak. Conventional equipment takes about an hour.

Sensicore, which recently announced that it has received $12 million in third-round funding, has been testing its products with water utilities and hopes to release its first products in November. A WaterPoint will cost around $2,500, while replacement sensors will go for about $300. Each sensor can test around 30 samples under 14 different parameters each before replacement.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the local agencies first face the challenge of pumping water out of the city and testing the water infrastructure, said Dave Dzombak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Until that can be done, portions of the city and many of the areas housing refugees will likely have to get water from tankers.

Disinfecting water can be accomplished in a number of ways. One of the most familiar, of course, is boiling. Adding chlorine or small amounts of bleach can also accomplish the task.

Employing UV light to disinfect was actually discovered in 1905. "But it quickly went out of vogue when chlorine was discovered to do the same thing," said Lang. "It was cheaper."

UV light began to make a comeback with water utilities in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Ashok Gadgil at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab began to experiment with house- and village-level UV purification systems.

This led to the formation of Water Health International, a company that has sold and installed UV systems in Mexico, South Africa and elsewhere.

32 comments

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You need electric power for the black light
How can anyone in the big easy use this black light system, They don't have power or running water.
The water could be carried in a bucket, but I do not know of a bucket which will carry electricty!!
Posted by 45-09843560-98245w-0wefpo (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Solar Panels!
Have you ever heard of solar panels? Or how about a generator?
Posted by 3vian (2 comments )
Link Flag
Take Time to read the Article ...
In the associated article it specifies that it is set up so that it can be run on SOLAR power... NO Electricity needed, and if you can make the thing for $70 bucks and provide water for HUNDREDS by running the thing all day long... I say you've got a pretty economical device here. I woulld start by installing them in Police and Fire Stations, where they could provide water for neighborhods and relief workers during this crisis. All people would have to do, is bring containers to take the water to their location. You might need to provide the Stations with some clean storage containers for holding extra water before the people pick it up. But I would put the devices in place now, because having the water ready is better than doing when the people are there and waiting and thirsty. I would also publish the instructions on the net, or post them in local hardware/home centers, so if people wanted to make their own, they could. Then, when this crisis is over, I would leave the devices in place and maintain them, just in case they were needed again.
Posted by (7 comments )
Link Flag
You need electric power for the black light
How can anyone in the big easy use this black light system, They don't have power or running water.
The water could be carried in a bucket, but I do not know of a bucket which will carry electricty!!
Posted by 45-09843560-98245w-0wefpo (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Solar Panels!
Have you ever heard of solar panels? Or how about a generator?
Posted by 3vian (2 comments )
Link Flag
Take Time to read the Article ...
In the associated article it specifies that it is set up so that it can be run on SOLAR power... NO Electricity needed, and if you can make the thing for $70 bucks and provide water for HUNDREDS by running the thing all day long... I say you've got a pretty economical device here. I woulld start by installing them in Police and Fire Stations, where they could provide water for neighborhods and relief workers during this crisis. All people would have to do, is bring containers to take the water to their location. You might need to provide the Stations with some clean storage containers for holding extra water before the people pick it up. But I would put the devices in place now, because having the water ready is better than doing when the people are there and waiting and thirsty. I would also publish the instructions on the net, or post them in local hardware/home centers, so if people wanted to make their own, they could. Then, when this crisis is over, I would leave the devices in place and maintain them, just in case they were needed again.
Posted by (7 comments )
Link Flag
Great idea, too late for thousands
This is a wonderful idea. There possibly may be many more
ideas and possibilities of getting drinking water to those in
need.

However, for this disaster, the simple fact is that human
beings can only live a short time without water and food,
and without these basic essentials, short of death, the mind
and judgement fade.

Short of getting the technology of water purification
precisely figured out; simply hauling in, flying in, shipping
in tanks of potable water from other cities would have filled
a desperate need on day 1. Bottles of Arrowhead would
have been great, but the solution did not need to be
perfect, just immediate and safe.

Unfortunately in the beaurocratic log-jam that is our
government, this human truth has taken second seat to
whatever lengthy ponderings have taken place regarding
budgets and logistics.

Again, not to disparage the inventor. The ingenuity of this
idea is admirable, and we need the brilliant minds in our
society to invent, perfect, and produce.

We need brilliant minds in our leadership to implement.

Perhaps in our next disaster, this idea will actually be in
use.
Posted by cvandeman (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great idea, too late for thousands
This is a wonderful idea. There possibly may be many more
ideas and possibilities of getting drinking water to those in
need.

However, for this disaster, the simple fact is that human
beings can only live a short time without water and food,
and without these basic essentials, short of death, the mind
and judgement fade.

Short of getting the technology of water purification
precisely figured out; simply hauling in, flying in, shipping
in tanks of potable water from other cities would have filled
a desperate need on day 1. Bottles of Arrowhead would
have been great, but the solution did not need to be
perfect, just immediate and safe.

Unfortunately in the beaurocratic log-jam that is our
government, this human truth has taken second seat to
whatever lengthy ponderings have taken place regarding
budgets and logistics.

Again, not to disparage the inventor. The ingenuity of this
idea is admirable, and we need the brilliant minds in our
society to invent, perfect, and produce.

We need brilliant minds in our leadership to implement.

Perhaps in our next disaster, this idea will actually be in
use.
Posted by cvandeman (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please put the plans into public domain
Strong work!

You've created a wonderful boon for humanity - if you put the
plans into public domain, the rewards and opportunities that will
come to you throughout your lives will be more valuable and
worthwhile to you than any bling that might (or might not)
accrue from keeping your device proprietary.

I'm guessing that the UV light would need a more constant
voltage source than mere photocell (or a any other alternative
energy source such as wind, waterwheel, etc.) could provide. So
the total cost of a set-up would have to also provide for storage
batteries/flywheels/etc. in addition to the energy generation
device(s).
Posted by BurmaYank (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please put the plans into public domain
Strong work!

You've created a wonderful boon for humanity - if you put the
plans into public domain, the rewards and opportunities that will
come to you throughout your lives will be more valuable and
worthwhile to you than any bling that might (or might not)
accrue from keeping your device proprietary.

I'm guessing that the UV light would need a more constant
voltage source than mere photocell (or a any other alternative
energy source such as wind, waterwheel, etc.) could provide. So
the total cost of a set-up would have to also provide for storage
batteries/flywheels/etc. in addition to the energy generation
device(s).
Posted by BurmaYank (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Run with the ball and DON'T DROP IT!
20-20 Hindsight is a fact of life - for many reasons: financial, political and social are just a few.

Disaster Recovery Planners in the IT industry have established their value through significant effort, championed by visionaries and against apathy, complacence and moans about cost. Yet any of them will admit actual disasters are more telling - and will learn from their, and others', mistakes.

Many issues and ideas will arise from the tragedy of New Orleans. The issue of potable water is a major one which the local, regional, national and international services can only respond with the facilities they have at hand NOW.

Let's give them a hand by supporting their efforts right now AND making sure SOMETHING changes for the better before the next time.

There will be lots of balls on the field - how about YOU pick up one of them and RUN WITH IT!
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Run with the ball and DON'T DROP IT!
20-20 Hindsight is a fact of life - for many reasons: financial, political and social are just a few.

Disaster Recovery Planners in the IT industry have established their value through significant effort, championed by visionaries and against apathy, complacence and moans about cost. Yet any of them will admit actual disasters are more telling - and will learn from their, and others', mistakes.

Many issues and ideas will arise from the tragedy of New Orleans. The issue of potable water is a major one which the local, regional, national and international services can only respond with the facilities they have at hand NOW.

Let's give them a hand by supporting their efforts right now AND making sure SOMETHING changes for the better before the next time.

There will be lots of balls on the field - how about YOU pick up one of them and RUN WITH IT!
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This Wouldn't Work At All for Katrina
If all there was in New Orleans was microbic contamination of the water, this would do fine. In fact, pack it up and take it to Mexico with and drink all the water you want. Unfortunately, it doesn't address chemical pollutants or solid matter that might be present in the water --all of which are present in New Orleans. Besides, UV light purification systems have been around for decades. If they would have been viable there, they would have been there.

While it's not really junk science, the application most of you folk have jumped to is simply beyond it's capabilities. Had one of you been in charge of rescue in New Orleans, and handed folk water from this device thinking things were fine and dandy now, you'd have probably killed a lot of people.

Best idea? Let's not put journalists, commentators, and most average folk in charge of deriving solutions for problems of which they have no real grasp.
Posted by hardedge (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's an idea to start with
This technology may provide limited or no help in situations like this - but at least people are interested enough to throw up some ideas. Brainstorming works well and can be fascinating to examine the path taken to arrive at real solutions.

I agree, let's not put journalists, commentators, and most average folk in charge of deriving solutions for problems of which they have no real grasp - let's put them in charge of DRIVING those that are ABLE TO FACILITATE the ones that <b>DO!</b>

Let us pray apathy and arrogance do not discourage any effort that can save a single life.
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
This Wouldn't Work At All for Katrina
If all there was in New Orleans was microbic contamination of the water, this would do fine. In fact, pack it up and take it to Mexico with and drink all the water you want. Unfortunately, it doesn't address chemical pollutants or solid matter that might be present in the water --all of which are present in New Orleans. Besides, UV light purification systems have been around for decades. If they would have been viable there, they would have been there.

While it's not really junk science, the application most of you folk have jumped to is simply beyond it's capabilities. Had one of you been in charge of rescue in New Orleans, and handed folk water from this device thinking things were fine and dandy now, you'd have probably killed a lot of people.

Best idea? Let's not put journalists, commentators, and most average folk in charge of deriving solutions for problems of which they have no real grasp.
Posted by hardedge (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's an idea to start with
This technology may provide limited or no help in situations like this - but at least people are interested enough to throw up some ideas. Brainstorming works well and can be fascinating to examine the path taken to arrive at real solutions.

I agree, let's not put journalists, commentators, and most average folk in charge of deriving solutions for problems of which they have no real grasp - let's put them in charge of DRIVING those that are ABLE TO FACILITATE the ones that <b>DO!</b>

Let us pray apathy and arrogance do not discourage any effort that can save a single life.
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
Hydration Technologies
Please check out
Hydration Technologies of Albany, Oregon
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hydrationtech.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.hydrationtech.com/</a>

Also see a recent review of this technology by the US Marines at: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/mces/MAGTF/mccoe1/Hydration%20Demo.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/mces/MAGTF/mccoe1/Hydration%20Demo.htm</a>

Solutions for fresh water don't neccessarily work for salt water. Has this technology from Hydration Technologies been widely tested and validated in the field?

If so could it be of assistance to the New Orleans situation?

I assume since Lake Pontchartrain is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico then the water which has flooded New Orleans would be a mix of fresh and salt water.

Also I assume the water in the Mississippi River at New Orleans is also within the tidal zone and thus is also a mix of saltwater.

US News &#38; World Report reported on Jan 17, 2005:

Do drink the water

One of the new-tech stars in the Iraq war is being shipped out to help tsunami victims. We hear the Army plans to buy hundreds more X-Packs, $54 portable packets that can turn mud to water via filters and nutrient syrup, for troops and locals. Soldiers say they love the packs, made by Oregon-based Hydration Technologies. One even told of turning his urine into drinking water. Army officials hope the filters will help fight dysentery and other waterborne diseases that authorities feared would claim as many lives as the tsunami itself.
Posted by Woodmon (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hydration Technologies
Please check out
Hydration Technologies of Albany, Oregon
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hydrationtech.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.hydrationtech.com/</a>

Also see a recent review of this technology by the US Marines at: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/mces/MAGTF/mccoe1/Hydration%20Demo.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/mces/MAGTF/mccoe1/Hydration%20Demo.htm</a>

Solutions for fresh water don't neccessarily work for salt water. Has this technology from Hydration Technologies been widely tested and validated in the field?

If so could it be of assistance to the New Orleans situation?

I assume since Lake Pontchartrain is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico then the water which has flooded New Orleans would be a mix of fresh and salt water.

Also I assume the water in the Mississippi River at New Orleans is also within the tidal zone and thus is also a mix of saltwater.

US News &#38; World Report reported on Jan 17, 2005:

Do drink the water

One of the new-tech stars in the Iraq war is being shipped out to help tsunami victims. We hear the Army plans to buy hundreds more X-Packs, $54 portable packets that can turn mud to water via filters and nutrient syrup, for troops and locals. Soldiers say they love the packs, made by Oregon-based Hydration Technologies. One even told of turning his urine into drinking water. Army officials hope the filters will help fight dysentery and other waterborne diseases that authorities feared would claim as many lives as the tsunami itself.
Posted by Woodmon (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
filtration first!
I like UV. We use it as 2nd barrier for our slow sand filters. I have to agree with one of the other responders, this technology would not cope with the stuff they are dealing with in New Orleans. The 72 hours, they needed water trucked in. During that time they could have been deploying stockpiled filter/uv(chlorine) systems for the longer haul. Should be a lesson to every city in the US! And FEMA-- anyone home?
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
filtration first!
I like UV. We use it as 2nd barrier for our slow sand filters. I have to agree with one of the other responders, this technology would not cope with the stuff they are dealing with in New Orleans. The 72 hours, they needed water trucked in. During that time they could have been deploying stockpiled filter/uv(chlorine) systems for the longer haul. Should be a lesson to every city in the US! And FEMA-- anyone home?
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Other Options Are More Practical
Water in the Gulf Coast is likely turbid and will require filtration before UV could be used. UV alone is not practical as particles will decrease the ability of UV to destroy pathogenic organisms. Multi-barrier treatment (one that involves both filtraiton followed by disinfection (e.g., free chlorine) is necessary in disaster situations.

Water utilities can be better prepared for handling these types of emergencies by planning and practicing (see AWWA emergency preparedness and exercise (www.awwa.org) publications and visit chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/ for the US Army's water system emergency response planning technical guide, factsheets on finding alternate water sources, and disinfection.

Any questions, send me an email.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Other Options Are More Practical
Water in the Gulf Coast is likely turbid and will require filtration before UV could be used. UV alone is not practical as particles will decrease the ability of UV to destroy pathogenic organisms. Multi-barrier treatment (one that involves both filtraiton followed by disinfection (e.g., free chlorine) is necessary in disaster situations.

Water utilities can be better prepared for handling these types of emergencies by planning and practicing (see AWWA emergency preparedness and exercise (www.awwa.org) publications and visit chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/ for the US Army's water system emergency response planning technical guide, factsheets on finding alternate water sources, and disinfection.

Any questions, send me an email.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about pollutants?
Unless this is comined with some kind of filter I don't see how it could be that useful. It only kills germs. You could get the same effect by boiling water or using disinfectants. It doesn't help with water contaminated with anything other than germs, such as manufactured chemicals or petroleum products.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about pollutants?
Unless this is comined with some kind of filter I don't see how it could be that useful. It only kills germs. You could get the same effect by boiling water or using disinfectants. It doesn't help with water contaminated with anything other than germs, such as manufactured chemicals or petroleum products.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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