A Small Company Solving a Big Problem

Steve Neill with Haitian orphansAidGear was founded by Steve Neill, a UK native who has spent much of his life traveling the globe. After living in Canada, Thailand, and New Zealand, Steve finally settled in Colorado, USA.

Steve's collective experience of volunteering with disaster response organizations involved in Thailand, Burma, India, Africa, and Haiti gave Steve strong insights into the needs of disaster victims following natural disasters.

Using his more than 20 years experience in disaster response, Steve started AidGear with the goal of developing highly reliable equipment disaster responders could trust in the field.

"Our vision is simple," says Steve Neill, "AidGear is here to save lives by designing and manufacturing superior disaster response equipment."

The Problem

Everyone needs clean water to drink. Without it we run the risk of getting sick and face the possibility of death. The fact is, today 1 in 8 people globally lack access to clean, safe drinking water

This number is a staggeringly unhappy statistic. According to the United Nations, about 783,000,000 people (or 11% world's population) lack access to improved sources of drinking water. Globally, 88% of  deaths caused by diarrhea are due to a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation. Slum dwelling and dirty waterTo put it simply, every 20 seconds a child dies needlessly because of bad water.

We could present more depressing statistics about how billions of people lack proper toilets and how the world over, millions are missing out on their education because they have to spend hours walking for miles to find water good enough to drink. This is a huge, ugly problem that isn't going away overnight.

Following a natural disaster, access to clean water often becomes more difficult. Even in developed, industrialized countries finding sources of clean drinking water can become difficult (e.g. Hurricane Katrina, USA) leading to increased levels of disease. Overcrowded camps sheltering displaced people can easily become the breeding grounds for disease if left unchecked. Disaster responders also need to ensure their own health and safety by having reliable sources of water to meet the needs of their teams.

The challenge for any Water Purification System (WPS) is to eliminate the water-borne threats that make people sick, and remove bad taste and odor that, while not always unsafe, are nevertheless unpleasant to drink.

An effective WPS needs to eliminate all disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria and cysts. Bacteria such as E. Coli, cholera, typhus, typhoid, and faecal coliform are common water-borne threats that can cause health issues ranging from the common cold to unpleasant gastrointestinal problems, or even worse -- death. Viruses (e.g. hepatitis and rhinovirus) can be harder to remove due to their submicroscopic size, as are cysts (e.g. giardia and cryptosporidium) due to their resistance to some chemical treatments.

Biological contaminants are not the only threats found in water. An effective WPS also needs to remove organic compounds, chemicals, and heavy metals. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as petroleum distilates and benzene are the by-product of industrial processes and in high doses are linked to organ failure and cancer.

Pesticides and herbicides are chemicals used to kill insects and unwanted plants. These also need to be removed as they are known to cause cancer and are linked to Parkinson's disease.

Finally, the threat of toxic heavy metals also need to be addressed. Metals such as copper, nickel, cadmium, chrome, arsenic, lead and mercury are often linked to human poisoning and have links to learning disabilities, cancers, and death.

The Solution

An effective Water Purification System would need to satisfy a number of critera, ideally:

  • Remove all biological, organic, and chemical contaminants
  • Provide the daily minimum amount of potable water according to international standards
  • Be self-contained and independent from an external power source
  • Be portable across a wide range of physical terrains
  • Be easily maintained in the field by relatively low-skilled operators

AidGear's Water Purification System

The Oasis-3 is a self-contained, solar-powered unit capable of producing up to 2 gallons potable water each minute from virtually any fresh water source including streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, wells, and flood water.

The water is passed through a series of filters to produce safe, clean, drinking water. The process typically looks like this:

  1. A coarse metal inlet screen removes large debris such as rocks, leaves and other objects.
  2. A sediment filter removes fine suspended particulates such as sand, mud and other suspended solids.
  3. A 1-micron or less membrane filter removes fine sediment, hair, dust, viruses, bacteria, protozoa and spores.
  4. An activated carbon filter removes chemicals, tastes and odors.
  5. An ultraviolet light scrambles the DNA of bacteria and viruses rendering 99.99% of them sterile.

A final, optional step, is to add chlorine-based purification tablets to ensure residual disinfection within water storage containers occurs up to the point of use.

Conclusion

Solutions to help clean dirty water are readily available but not all are suitable to meet the needs of disaster victims.

Child drinking clean waterAidGear is developing compact and highly portable water treatment systems designed for high reliability in the field. Our systems will be able to be used anywhere in the world to provide clean drinking water to those that need it.