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Ambitious Goals for Water Purification System the Size of a Ketchup Packet [VIDEO]

Sep 09, 2013 05:05 PM EDT

A container of murky brown water completely unsuitable for drinking can be purified and sanitized into potable water by a simple system that has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

This week at the 246th meeting of the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Indianapolis, the people behind the water purification system spoke about their milestones and what the future will bring.

The non-profit program Children's Safe Drinking Water, which is an arm of the consumer goods company Proctor and Gamble (P&G), is the lead partner in a multidisciplinary effort to provide clean drinking water to families in developing countries. Since the project got underway in 2004, the non-profit group claims to have provided 6 billion quarts of clean drinking water and saved an estimated 32,000 lives.

By 2020 the nonprofit's goal is to be able to provide 2 billion quarts of clean drinking water each year, which the group says is the equivalent of saving one life per hour.

"The real key to us achieving numbers like that and providing that much water and having the estimated health impact that we report is really partnership," said Allison Tummon Kamphuis, who manages Children's Safe Drinking Water (CSDW).

At the heart of the program is a water-purifying sachet the size of a fast-food ketchup packet.

"We call it a mini-water-treatment plant in a packet," Tummon Kamphuis said. Inside the packet is a powder that Tummon Kamphuis said, on a small (and portable) scale, can essentially preform the job of a municipal water treatment facility.

The small sachets same chemical ingredients used in municipal water systems including ferric sulfate as a coagulant and calcium hypochlorite as a disinfectant. According to the CSDW, the water purification packets are "approved as a microbiological purifier of water by the US EPA and meet the WHO guidelines for a protective household water treatment technology."

Providing access to clean drinking water is a humanitarian attempt to end the second leading cause of childhood death worldwide. Diarrhea, which can be contracted by pathogens living in contaminated water, is responsible for about 2,000 childhood deaths annually.

According to CSDW, Rawanda is one of the most affected countries, with 80 percent of the diseases people there contract coming as a result of contaminated drinking water. Eleven percent of Rawandan children die before they turn five years old, the non-profit group said.

By providing the water-purifying packets to countries in need, the non-profit hopes to alleviate some of the distress a lack of clean drinking water causes in developing nations.

"These packets are being used all around the world to make dirty, unsafe water clean enough to drink with simple tools - a bucket, a stick, a cloth and a tiny packet," Tummon Kamphuis said earlier this year.

The initiative has received praise from high echelons, including former US president Bill Clinton, who said providing clean drinking water to those in need is "one of the simplest things we can do to save lives."

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