Do You Save Lives? USU’s EWB Does!
(Learn how Utah State University’s Engineers Without Boarders club members are saving lives in La Salitrera Mexico.)
By Maddison Lund
Last summer Utah State University’s Engineers Without Borders Mexico team went to La Salitrera Mexico. La Salitrera is a rural community that is about 160 miles northwest of Mexico City. They have no indoor pluming and only a limited amount of electricity, and water.
La Salitrera has two main water sources. The first water source goes dry for several months during the winter and is therefore not very useful. The second and main water source is a ground water well that is about 200 meters deep and two miles from the community. This well is ran by a water committee that divides out the water to La Salitrera and six other communities like it. La Salitrera is only able to receive water every three days and therefore has sanitation/pathogen problems due to improper water storage.
The La Salitrera community suffers not only from the lack of a constant clean water source, but also from high levels of arsenic in their water. According to USU’s EWB Mexico team page and The World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended limit for arsenic is about 10 ppb, however the water measured from La Salitrera’s water distribution system measured over 20 ppb.
In order to help the La Salitrera community from slow arsenic poisoning and the contamination of pathogens, Utah State University’s Engineers Without Borders Mexico team came up with the idea of a water filtration system. This system though chemically complex is able to be created from plentiful resources within the La Salitrera community and therefore is self-sustaining. In simple terms the water is able to be filtered with gravel found in the river beds, nails, concrete, and plastic
So what is arsenic to begin with? According to the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), “Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table ‘AS’. It is odorless and tasteless. It enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.”
Arsenic is used in many household items. It is used in everything from soap, metal, dyes, pigments, gases, insecticides and even rat poison. Although it a slow poisoner, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “Small amounts of arsenic may enter the body through the skin, but this is not usually an important consideration.” The real harm from arsenic is by mouth.
Drinking water from an arsenic contaminated source can cause a wide variety of health risks. The EPA states that, “People who drink water containing arsenic . . . for many years could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.” The most common system of arsenic poisoning is, “stalking-glove”. “Stalking- Glove” is best described as, “[A] thickening and discoloration of the skin.” Internally however “stalking-glove” may cause, “Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness.”
Arsenic is a slow poisoner that has taken lives all throughout history. Today Utah State University’s Engineers Without Borders Mexico team is taking a stand against it. To ensure a better tomorrow USU’s EWB club members are volunteering, engineering, and creating a difference. They are saving lives one small community at a time.
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