The Straw that Saves Lives

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Providing money, roads, education, electricity, and employment to needy people of the world is a noble idea, but it's like putting the cart before the horse when a billion people don't have a reliable source of safe drinking water. They are in danger of ingesting typhoid, dysentery, salmonella, diphtheria, E. coli, or cholera. Water treatment plants and long distance pipes are terribly expensive for Third World nations, and even purified water can become contaminated with disease before consumption.

A possible solution: a personal water filter for each person. Danish water purification company Vestergaard Frandsen has developed the LifeStraw® Personal, a small filter that requires no power and can be worn on a string around the neck. There are no moving parts and no maintenance is required. Sip water directly through the LifeStraw® and it removes 99% of waterborne bacteria and viruses. There are several layers inside to filter out increasingly smaller pathogens, then iodine to kill the smallest, and finally charcoal to remove the iodine taste. After use, you blow air back through the straw to clear the filters. A personal filter lasts for about a year's use. It is not effective against the parasite Giardia lamblia, which is smaller than 5 microns, but the company is working on it.

Vestergaard Frandsen also offers the LifeStraw® Family, which can be used to clean a household water supply. The filter cleaning is just a bit more complicated than the personal filter, but still simple. The family filter should last two years.

LifeStraw® won the Saatchi & Saatchi Award for World Changing Ideas earlier this year, among a growing list of awards and accolades. It is not available at the retail level yet, although many are interested in using it for camping or international travel. Organizations and corporations who want to set up a distribution deal can contact Vestergaard Frandsen. Hundreds of thousands of LifeStraw®s have been distributed so far, much of them shipped to victims of disasters such as the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and the recent cyclone in Burma. The cost of the personal LifeStraw® is about $3 each, which is too expensive for most of the people who need it. There's the tragedy, since $3 is about the cost of a morning latte for most Americans.

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May 19, 2008 - 3:00am
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