TAMU Water Project: A Photo Slideshow About Potters, Engineers, Housing Experts, and Medical Staff Working Together for Clean Water
By Oscar Munoz & Michelle Badash
Texas & Massachusetts
"Three hundred children across our globe die every hour from diarrheal diseases caused by a lack of access to clean water, sanitation and adequate healthcare. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are 100% preventable through improved access to potable water and sanitation." Dr. Bryan Boulanger, assistant professor,
Zachry Dept. of Civil Engineering, Texas A & M
Most of us don’t give too much thought to the availability of clean water – turn on any faucet, and it’s there. We may realize that there are places in the developing world where clean water is not easily accessible – but many people would be surprised to learn that certain communities right here in the United States have no clean water at their disposal.
Faculty at the Texas A & M University (TAMU) have created a unique program that combines the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of potters, engineers, housing experts and medical staff to provide access to clean water to The Colonias, a group of 2000 communities spread across a 1,434 mile section along the Texas border next to the Rio Grande River. More than half a million people living in The Colonias have no running water or sewage system in their homes.
The project began in 2006, when B. Stephen Carpenter, an associate professor in the Teaching, Learning and Culture program, met with Oscar Muñoz, the Deputy Director of The Colonias Program in the Center for Housing and Urban Development at TAMU. They developed a plan to create clay water filters based on a design by Potters for Peace, a non-profit group that provides clay water filters to people all over the world.
The clay filters are made from 50% clay and 50% sawdust, and contain colloidal silver, which deactivates bacteria and microbes. The filters have been shown to eliminate 99% of E.coli, coliform and Streptococcus organisms.
Muñoz and Carpenter recruited Bryan Boulanger, assistant professor in the Zachry Dept. of Civil Engineering at TAMU, and called on Richard Wukich, a friend and mentor of Carpenter in Slippery Rock, PA, and Manny Hernandez, an art professor at Northern Illinois University, to help as consultants and technical advisors. Eventually, eight graduate students joined the project, and work began creating clay filters. Every Friday, students would join Carpenter in his garage for "Filter Fridays" to mold and form the clay filters. Firing is done at another pottery facility. Most recently, the Project was joined by a new partner, Dr. Alicia Dorsey, who is the liaison for Texas A&M Health Science Center, which includes the College of Medicine, College of Nursing, Baylor College of Dentistry, School of Rural Public Health and the College of Pharmacy.
However, creating water filters is just one part of this program. Another critical component is to educate lay people, as well as people living in communities without water, about water resources, conservation, water pollution and water treatment. These educational efforts have included a recent 5 day Water Camp for 4th – 8th grade students in El Paso county, who investigated water resources conservation and treatment through art, science, teamwork, and field trips to water treatment facilities. Additionally, the Water Project expanded into the international arena by going to Ecuador this past summer. Organized by Texas A & M Health Science Center (TAMHSC), the trip was a health/service mission to teach community workers about water treatment and share techniques on how to create their own clay water filters.
The Water Project has made great strides within the last year in securing a bright future for the Project. The Webb County Commissioners Court agreed to provide space in Laredo, Texas for the Project to build its first water filter production and education center. And Texas A & M University announced that they would provide a site on its Riverside campus for a filter research and development facility. Both of these developments will help the TAMU Water Project in meeting its goal of creating 10,000 filters a year to residents of The Colonias.
For further information about the TAMU Water Project, visit: http://tamuwaterproject.wordpress.com
For a slideshow about this project, click the video below:
Michelle Badash has been developing award-winning print and Web-based health content for non-profits, academia and the private sector for more than 15 years. She currently works as the Managing Editor of an academic international nutrition journal, and is also a freelance consultant specializing in global health and photography projects. Michelle is a volunteer editor of this year's Health Literacy Month storytelling project. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome your comments about each story. The best place for doing so is on our Health Literacy Month blog.
Please share these health literacy stories with others. You are welcome to post a link, send an email, or otherwise tell others about them. To reprint any story, please first contact the author (if contact information is included). Otherwise, please cite the source by adding this tagline "Story reprinted with permission of the Health Literacy Month Storytelling Project. You can find more information and other stories at www.healthliteracymonth.org."