From Vancouver to Africa: help for safe water

Devices made by Friends of the Carpenter

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Stainless steel wire, a metal washer, a piece of polycarbonate plastic and a little bit of soy wax. That's all it takes to reduce the number of illnesses and deaths caused by dirty water.

photoFriends of the Carpenter is working with Bob Tait of Clackamas, Ore., to create reusable water pasteurization indicators (WAPI) to be used in third-world countries.

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Those four materials are used to create reusable water pasteurization indicators — or WAPIs, as they're often called. The hand-held devices cost 50 cents to make and save thousands of lives, said Bob Tait, the Clackamas, Ore., man who started local efforts to create the devices.

"They save lives," Tait said. "Every 14 seconds, a child dies from waterborne disease. … These devices let them know the water is safe."

The project started four years ago with a mission trip to Africa. Prior to the trip, Tait's church group purchased the materials to make the devices. They took the WAPIs to the villagers, who explained the overwhelming need for water pasteurization devices, Tait said.

Typically, the villagers collect wood or charcoal, create a fire and boil their water. But the water doesn't need to boil in order to kill bacteria, Tait said.

Water heated to 170 degrees will eliminate a variety of waterborne diseases, including cholera, E. coli, typhoid and giardia, Tait said. The devices are used to determine when the water reaches that temperature rather than waiting for the water to boil, which saves fuel and time, he said.

"It doesn't purify the water, it neutralizes the virus," said Duane Sich, executive director of Friends of the Carpenter, a Vancouver nonprofit organization involved in the project. "So while you're not drinking clean water, you're drinking water that won't kill you or make you sick."

The devices are easy to use, too.

The polycarbonate plastic is a tube sealed at both ends and threaded through stainless steel wire, hooked at each end. Inside the tube is hardened soy wax. The metal washer is around the outside of the tube.

One end of the wire hooks onto the lip of the pot. The device should be positioned so the wax is at the top of the plastic tube and the washer is at the bottom.

Once the wax melts and falls to the bottom of the tube, the water has been pasteurized and is ready to use. Once the wax re-hardens, the device is ready to use again.

Four years ago, when Tait returned from Africa, he connected with area businesses and organizations to get materials to make more of the devices. Then, about two years ago, Tait joined forces with the faith-based Friends of the Carpenter.

The organization serves as a day shelter that facilitates relationships between the homeless and community members. Friends of the Carpenter has a wood shop where visitors work on a range of projects, from pocket-sized crosses to furniture.

Community members and area businesses have donated machinery, molds, materials and money to help cover the cost of the WAPIs.

The partnership has allowed Tait to expand the WAPI project. To date, Tait and the others have created and delivered more than 5,000 WAPIs to countries across the world.

But Friends of the Carpenter is always looking for more volunteers, particularly those who are interested in making WAPIs.

"We can't make enough to satisfy the need," Tait said.

"Kids are dying of water-bourne illnesses," Sich said. "The need is there."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.