Friday, June 10, 2011

CTI team in Haiti finds extensive E. coli contamination in water samples

By Sam Usem, CTI Volunteer, Haiti

Over the last three days here in Cap-Haitien we have been testing the “Water Aqualyser”, a prototype water treatment device that CTI volunteers from the University of St. Thomas have spent the last year creating. After finding positive results of E. coli in 10 of 15 samples of well water, we decided to test the worst cases using our device. The town of Cap-Haitien, located in North Haiti, is facing high E.coli contamination, making it an ideal location for conducting proof-of-concept tests. 

We gathered contaminated water into a 5 gallon bucket and added 5 grams of salt. The Water Aqualyser uses electrolyzed metal plates to convert the salt into chlorine, which kills bacteria and harmful pathogens commonly present in untreated drinking water water. Today, we tested 4 different plate set-ups and tomorrow we will test the salt concentration. The goal is identify a design which will be low cost and require minimal operation time. The samples that have been run through the Water Aqualyser prototype will go into an incubator and be analyzed by the team. Field testing has allowed the team to ask locals about the device and how they believe it may be received.

The CTI team uses pedal power to run the Water Aqualyser Prototype
One of the most important pieces of the project is to gain user feedback from Haitian communities. In the North of Haiti most people drink ground water accessed by hand pumps. The hand pumps are plentiful, and at first look the water appears clean, so the communities have no qualms drinking the water. Here it is evident that the Aqualyser unit will have to be retrofit to the pump itself. In other places in the world we will have to design the unit around local lifestyles on order to ensure that the technology is truly compatible.

Today, the team is testing a hand pump that is used within a school community in Limonade. Of all of the samples we took, this pump produced the most badly contaminated water. It contained the over 100 colonies of E. coli as well as over 100 colonies of other bacteria. The ground water around the pump was also highly contaminated. Small children were drinking this water not knowing what harmful bacteria they were putting into their bodies.

Throughout our time here, the team will continue to test sites that were highly contaminated and gain user feedback. Look back to the blog next and soon for a final report.

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