In the agricultural community of La Salitrera, Mexico, nearby rivers and groundwater wells have provided much-needed water for community members for decades. Although La Salitrera had access to a water supply, the water itself was posing serious health risks to community members, like brothers Miguel and Roberto.
When Miguel and Roberto needed to quench their thirst, their only option was water that was contaminated with twice the World Health Organization’s recommended limit for arsenic. Arsenic, a naturally occurring toxin, can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease and cancers of the skin, bladder and lung. Children are especially susceptible to the effects of arsenic exposure.
This localized problem required a localized solution, which is where the EWB-USA Utah State University Chapter (EWB-USA USU) stepped in. By partnering with Miguel and Roberto’s community, EWB-USA USU was able to find a long-term solution for the contaminated water supply.
The team determined that concrete biosand filters installed at individual homes was the best solution for La Salitera’s arsenic-laden water. Since standard biosand filters only remove bacteria contaminants, the team modified the design. The new design utilized local materials such as concrete, washed sand, PVC pipes and one unexpected addition: rusty nails, which remove arsenic from the water.
In summer 2014 EWB-USA USU students and mentors traveled to La Salitera with the goal of constructing three filters in 10 days. Anellise Reynolds, team lead on the project, reports that they constructed twice as many filters as planned thanks to the tremendous support and involvement of the community. Miguel, Roberto and others halted their typical daily work to labor alongside the students from first light until nightfall. The work was back-breaking, with large amounts of sand and gravel gathered from the river for the filters. “It was exhausting work, but totally worth it,” said Anellise.
Miguel’s home received the first completed biosand filter. But in the true community spirit, he continued to work tirelessly with the rest of the team until all the filters were complete. These six filters are life-changing for these families. The clean, arsenic-free water readily available from the filters drastically improves the health problems facing the community.
EWB-USA USU team wants the entire community to have access to a healthy, productive future. They will return this summer to construct six more biosand filters. The students know that Miguel and Roberto will be working with them every step of the way, ensuring that the community can safely enjoy the health benefits of a clean and safe glass of water.