By Ron Hallett, P.E.

Summary: Many organizations, often under the guise of public attention, extend their resources and time to Third World countries so quality drinking water can be attained. These organizations also need equipment and that’s when a qualified water treatment professional can make a difference.   


Paradise, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It could be rolling hills, lush valleys or beautiful beaches. For some, paradise could be giant mountains covered in snow or colorful coral reefs teeming with life below a calm, azure sea. But for those living in the less developed country of Honduras, paradise is being rescued from the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital city, and given a chance at a new life in a community called Nuevo Paraiso.

Nuevo Paraiso—or “New Paradise”—is a small community project established 12 years ago by Sociedad Amigo de los Niños in Honduras. For 27 years, Sociedad Amigos de los Niños in cooperation with S.O.S. Children Villages have cared for over 34,000 children who are now productive citizens as well as collaborators in its work today. Homeless mothers and children are provided with free housing, medical services and education while working on-site at micro-enterprises including a brick factory, a plantain chip and jelly factory as well as in agriculture. Located about an hour south of Tegucigalpa, the community of 64 families is situated in a flat-bottomed valley and has a nursery school, kindergarten, elementary and high school. There’s a medical clinic that also offers dental services and a community center.

What Nuevo Paraiso’s elementary school didn’t have—until now—is access to pure, safe drinking water.

In dire need of water
Since the community’s inception, Nuevo Paraiso has had serious water issues impacting the health of the community, especially young children. Infants and small children—whose immune systems are still developing—have been plagued with illness due to parasitic pathogens, coliform bacteria, E. coli, and contamination from snakes, mice, frogs and insects that get into the underground cistern water storage facilities.

“When I first arrived at Nuevo Paraiso, I took a look around and realized that the water quality was truly terrible,” states Greg LeBreton, Ph.D., and environment consultant with Aquatic Solutions, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. “The existing water system is poor at best using leaking plastic pipes instead of copper, and many of the drinking water lines run through puddles of home wastewaters—grey water—discharged directly onto the soil surface. Plus, the underground storage cisterns could only be described as containing bacterial soup.”

Volunteering his expertise to Real Difference, a Canadian not-for-profit organization established 25 years ago to bring medical assistance to the people of Honduras, LeBreton was responsible for installing an ultraviolet (UV) drinking water purification system in the community’s elementary school. The UV system was installed last November.

“The Real Difference organization relies on individual Canadians and Canadian companies to help solve the very real and sometimes life-threatening problems facing the people of Honduras,” explains director Heather Gouin. “Instead of sending drugs to treat the community after they become ill from unsafe water, we felt it would be better to tackle the problem head-on and provide a solution that would eliminate the pathogens causing disease.”

The installation of a system that was low maintenance and fail-safe was particularly critical given the lack of staff and knowledge regarding the technology at the site. The school wanted all the safety associated with an NSF-certified system but didn’t want the inconvenience of false alarms due to overheating or quartz and sensor fouling that can plague conventional systems.  

It’s for this reason the facility decided to take advantage of recent advances in UV treatment and chose a next generation UV system that turns existing UV system design inside out. Water is pumped inside the quartz tube for treatment instead of outside the tube. UV lamps are now mounted outside the quartz tube in the air. Lamp changing becomes a quick two-minute task requiring only a screwdriver, and the system doesn’t have to be drained simply to change a bulb.

With a conventional system for it to operate at its design temperature, a quartz sleeve is used to protect the lamp from the flowing water. Maintenance is difficult, at best, because the system must be drained monthly and the quartz manually cleaned.  During this routine maintenance, the delicate quartz tube often breaks requiring replacement. Automatic quartz-cleaning devices have been introduced to minimize and, in most cases, eliminate quartz fouling.

The use of multiple sensors in the UV system was also a key benefit in the installation. By monitoring both UV lamp output and water UV transmittance separately, the facilities people can quickly determine the source of an alarm. One final concern was the system’s ability to not only detect when the water isn’t being treated with sufficient UV dose but also protect people from drinking contaminated water. This was resolved by incorporating a normally closed fail-safe electric solenoid valve that shuts off the water if a problem occurs.

Conclusion
Prior to implementation, water testing conducted on the existing water system yielded extremely high levels of coliform bacteria. After installation of the UV system, testing showed the water was free of pathogens and bacteria and therefore completely safe to drink. The next step will be to install a chlorination system to provide residual anti-bacterial action in the water—especially water stored in cisterns—creating a multi-barrier approach to water purification.

“Working to ensure the kids in Nuevo Paraiso have access to pure, safe drinking water was a pleasure,” says LeBreton. “The (UV system provider) has excellent technology, excellent customer service and was stellar in providing the additional filter housing required for this site. They obviously care and want to help.”

About the author
Ron Hallett, founder of UV Pure Technologies Inc., of Toronto, Canada, is a professional engineer and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo, Canada, in mechanical engineering. He also holds memberships in the American Society of Industrial Engineers, Association of Professional Engineers in Ontario, and American Water Works Association, as well as serves on the NSF-55 Task Force with NSF International, a global standards and certification authority for drinking water systems. His company donated a Hallett 13 UV unit with patented Crossfire technology and filter housing system to the Honduran community discussed in this article. Hallett can be reached at (416) 208-9884, (416) 208-5808 (fax), email: info@uvpure.com or website: www.uvpure.com

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