Clean water – 2008 health breakthrough


I think some of the biggest breakthroughs for overall health in 2008 occurred in water purification.

Paraphrasing Dean Kamen from the well known Colbert Report video:

“50% of all human diseases in our world today are due to waterborne pathogens…1.1 billion people go to bed each night either thirsty or sick from drinking dirty water.”

There is probably no better way to save more lives in the world other than providing clean water (I will be talking about more traditional high level cellular biology 2008 breakthroughs also in later pieces).

A few years ago the Vestergaard Frandsen Group developed the LifeStraw Personal that is the small and cheap tube that by simply sucking at one end you can get clean water (see LifeStraw wiki). This was mainly developed for 3rd world nations, but it is also used as an emergency water filter by hiker and backpacker types. The filter is rated for up to 700 liters and while it removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria but does not remove Giardia lamblia (since it is smaller than 5 micrometers and resist iodine treatment.

However, this year (2008) the company came out with LifeStraw Family that removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.99% of vira and 99.99% of parasites – including Giardia lamblia. Additionally, it is also cheaper (per purified liter) than LifeStraw Personal. At 20 liters of water per day for an average developing nation family the water purifier would provide safe water for 3 years (we will not discuss how much water a family from a develop nation uses each day).

And if you want to see an impressive video of the water purification ability of water by LifeStraw click here.

These two products are fantastic and will save countless lives. Now if you thought that it might not be a bad thing to buy personal as part of a survival like package the family version (the best choice) is not available for individual buying (see website) but I have previously seen the personal version availble on the net.

Alternatives small portable versions include:

2008 Backpacker magazine Editor’s choice to MSR hyperflow microfilter.

The HyperFlow filters nasties as small as .2 microns, which removes protozoa (like giardia and cryptosporidium) and bacteria (like E. coli), but not viruses. MSR claims a filter cartridge lifespan of 1,000 liters, and during six months of field-testing we didn’t experience a single slow-down. $99; 7.4 oz; (800) 531-9531;

You can also check out their miox model which is a similar size to LifeStraw Personal (but note it requires batteries). Another manufacturer of an interesting small water filter provides this solution. Finally, there is miniworks ex.

Clean water for a whole village:

We talked about personal water purification then family but think of the lives saved when you can provide a whole village with clean drinking water.

For an even bigger level of water purification Dean Kamen, the inventor of Segway among other things, announced in 2008 his new invention the Slingshot machine that can provide a whole village with clean water (1,000 liters/day)from any dirty water source including: “ocean, puddle, chemical waste site, hexavalent chrome, arsenic, poison, 50 gallon drum of urine” (as covered in Wired magazine).

How it works is by using waste heat from a Stirling engine electrical generator (which runs on anything that burns – from propane to cow shit, and will beyond providing the heat for the water purification, and obviously will also produce electricity). The whole thing weighs less than 60 pounds, and while the cost of producing the current hand made version is around $ 100,000, with mass production it will only cost 1 to 2 thousand. Think of providing clean water for an entire village for that cost – year after year.

Check out the Colbert Report video of Dean Kamen being interviewed about his invention here.

Now unfortunately I have read (but couldn’t refind the link) that Mr. Kamen is having trouble getting anybody interested in mass producing this life saving product. Hard to believe but true, here an inventor who is very well known has come up with a life saving invention but still has trouble getting to the next step of mass production. I am hoping some big pocket chartiable foundation like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation,  which has so much other good work, or others can step in and start the ball rolling.

To clean water in 2009 and millions of saved lives.