British students clean the water in an Ecuadorian village; System designed by Dylan Buckingham of Lakeside Park

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By Jordan Strickler
University of Kentucky

In Ecuador, the Tsáchila people have long suffered countless health problems related to contaminated water. Professor Wayne Sanderson of the University of Kentucky and a group of students from Britain’s College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment may have found a likely solution to the dilemma.

Among the students is NKYian Dylan Buckingham of Lakeside Park, a 2022 biosystems and agricultural engineering graduate who helped create the filtration design used in the clean water project.

Pictures of Wayne Sanderson

Healthcare providers from Britain’s Shoulder-to-Shoulder Global program, a medical aid organization under the university’s International Center that aims to improve the health and well-being of underserved communities in Santo Domingo, in Ecuador, found that residents of the hamlet of Tsáchila had a high prevalence of illnesses such as gastritis, chronic diarrhea and anemia, which were attributed to the unsafe water in the area. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is essential for improving health, in particular for reducing the infant mortality rate and reducing the risk of waterborne diseases.

“Indigenous peoples known as the Tsáchila reside in rural areas without access to sewers or drinking water systems,” said Sanderson, a professor in the UK’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. “Finding a way to improve the quality of their water gives our students a great opportunity to use their research and field assessment skills to solve a very common global health problem: not having access to potable water.”

The filter system

Most homes get their drinking water from shallow wells less than 10 meters deep or from nearby springs and rivers. However, the researchers discovered that coliform bacteria were contaminating several wells and surface waters. To ensure gastrointestinal health, the city needed clean water infrastructure and sanitation systems that were practical, affordable and easy to maintain.

The researchers found poor water sanitation in 40 of the homes in their study. Unsafe water had negative health consequences, including chronic anemia in a third of children. Due to their complexity and lack of resources, previous water filtration technologies had failed.

Residents needed a durable, low-maintenance, and affordable filtration option to clean drinking water and promote overall health. The fundamental idea behind the design was to use agricultural by-products, such as biochar, a black carbon produced from biomass sources such as agricultural waste, to build a single, rugged and affordable unit that could provide daily clean water to about eight people.

The main filter house is an easily accessible 30 gallon food grade polyethylene plastic drum. The drum is equipped with an upper opening to directly discharge the polluted water from the well. Simple transfer from a shallow well or stream makes it easy to start the filtration process. A removable base rests against the bottom of the barrel. This contains a tray with holes in it to measure the seepage of liquid into a charcoal substance. To ensure an even flow over the entire area, a compression plate is attached to a threaded rod and the activated carbon filter is placed on top.

British studnets helped create a filtration system for Ecuadorian villagers.

“The goal of the system we designed was for villagers to be able to make and filter water themselves through their own filtration media,” said Isaac Hamlin, a 2022 biosystems and agricultural engineering graduate. would eliminate the need to purchase an annual or monthly replacement filter. Instead, villagers can use the waste created after harvesting crops. When this is put into a kiln and held at a specific temperature for a set amount of time, you are left with the charcoal, which will become a physical filtration medium.

The biggest challenge of the project was to design an affordable system that would not need additional funding for maintenance. In addition, it had to have a simple construction that anyone without technical knowledge could take apart to clean it and put it back together.

“There have been a few previous attempts in the community to create a filtration system, but they have not considered the community’s ability to implement and maintain the systems,” said Dylan Buckingham of Lakeside Park. , who graduated in biosystems and agricultural engineering in 2022. helped create the filtration design. “Sometimes they would set up a filtration system that no one knew how to maintain or repair simply because of a lack of available resources.”

Hamlin will continue his research on the filtration system with Sanderson. They hope that with more lab research, they can determine exactly how many bacteria and other contaminants remain in the water after filtration, thereby ensuring water safety.

Buckingham said he hopes to use what he learned working with filtration systems and interacting with Ecuadorians in his career.

“I want to continue in the field and eventually work towards building more sustainable practices in the field of water sanitation. It was a great project, because I learned a lot about the difficulty of extracting microbes from water. It was especially great to work with different cultures and learn about some of the issues they face. »

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