BERKELEY, CA. -- In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch'sdevastating rampage through Central America, a device invented atthe U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Lawrence BerkeleyNational Laboratory is being deployed to disinfect drinking waterin areas ravaged by the storm.
The second-strongest storm to sweep through the western Caribbeansince Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, Mitch left some 10,000 peopledead and laid waste to the economies and infrastructures ofHonduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Thousands of more lives areat risk for lack of sanitary drinking water.
In response, many of the disaster-relief efforts are bringing in"UV Waterworks," a small, simple device that uses ultravioletlight to quickly, safely, and cheaply disinfect water of theviruses and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, dysentery andother deadly diseases.
"This device can play an important role in getting clean water toaffected communities throughout the region in the near term,"Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said yesterday at aWashington, DC conference to coordinate federal and privatesector relief efforts. "For the long-term development that isneeded, we have experts that can help with the recovery of thegeneration of electric power and the development of new sourcesof power."
UV Waterworks, which was invented by Ashok Gadgil, a scientistwith Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division,is ideally suited for emergency situations.
"Unlike other ultraviolet-based water purifiers, UV Waterworksdoes not require pressurized water-delivery systems andelectrical outlets," says Gadgil. "It is designed to rely ongravity for water flow which means it can be used with any sourceof water."
Needing electricity only to operate its small UV lamp andautomatic shutoff valve, UV Waterworks can be powered by a carbattery or a 60-watt solar cell. About the size of a microwaveoven and weighing seven kilograms (15 pounds), it can disinfectwater at the rate of four gallons per minute, similar to the flowfrom a typical American bathtub spout. Passing water throughultraviolet light inactivates the DNA of pathogens and purifiesthe water at a cost of about five U.S. cents for every 1,000gallons.
In addition to their deployment to the Central American countrieshit by Hurricane Mitch, UV Waterworks devices are extensivelyused in Mexico and the Philippines. It is estimated that inManila alone, several thousand people now purchase their dailydrinking water from vending stations with UV Waterworks devices.Other countries in which the device is used include Nepal,Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.
UV Waterworks has won major awards from both Discover and PopularScience magazines. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Instituteadded a UV Waterworks device to their permanent collection ofmedical inventions. This device is currently on display at theNational Museum of American History. The UV Waterworkstechnology has been licensed to WaterHealth International, Inc.,(WHI) which has been working with Central American relieforganizations in response to the Hurricane Mitch crisis.
Gadgil has been busy designing a "disaster-relief" version of UVWaterworks with funding from DOE and WHI.
"This version has a pump, a hydrocyclonic separator, and a seriesof filters to remove silt, suspended solids, and turbidity frominlet water which can then be treated with UV Waterworks toproduce potable water," says Gadgil. "The system can be alsoconfigured with a granulated activated carbon filter to treatwaters with low levels of organic chemical contaminants."
Although this new version of UV Waterworks can not handle"severe" chemical contamination of the water, it can be used totreat the soil, mud, and biological contaminantscontaminants that are common in most disaster-relief situations.The research prototype of this new version of UV Waterworksweighs 100 kilograms (250 pounds) and can produce more than 5,000gallons of drinking waterdaily.
Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratorylocated in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassifiedscientific research and is managed by the University ofCalifornia.
Materials provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Cite This Page: