LifeStraw: A Filtration System That Saves Millions of Lives and Dollars

A cheap, easy to use, and highly effective tool, the LifeStraw is able to kill nearly 100 percent of the bacteria and viruses found in water


Here at Medgadget we cover the latest in high-tech medicine, so it is no surprise that many of the devices we profile help doctors save lives, but cost millions of dollars. That is due primarily to the fact that the developed world has overcome diseases and conditions, such as diarrhea and dysentery, that continue to ravage large swathes of the Third World. Yet cheap technological solutions exist that can save millions right now, and LifeStraw from Vestergaard Frandsen, is a perfect example. The Swiss company that makes it has been supplying mosquito nets to regions suffering from malaria and is now addressing diseases arising from dirty water with a device that purifies it at the point of consumption.

We recently had a chance to sit down with a spokesperson from Vestergaard Frandsen, who gave us an overview of the company's efforts. Because a lack of clean water, and the infrastructure to supply it, is typically due to more structural issues within the affected nations, there is often no hope that water treatment plants are going to be built and pipes installed any time soon. And so for decades entire regions around the world have been resorting to boiling water using locally chopped wood as their only option of purification. Not only is this probably not very good for the environment, the amount of time and labor spent harvesting wood could be going into other tasks, like laying pipe for example.

The LifeStraw Family is a cheap, easy to use, and highly effective filtration system that will remove just about all pathogens (99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses, and 99.9 percent of protozoan parasites) from water that is poured through it. The device requires no electricity and is a purely mechanical filter that relies on the weight of the water in the one meter tall column to perform the filtration. Because of the design of the device and the fact that it does not use any chemicals for water treatment, it has been shown to work effectively for at least 18,000 liters (that's three years for a family of four), and possibly for a lot longer if proper regular cleaning using the blowback pump is performed. And unlike a multi-million dollar water treatment plant, the LifeStraw does this for about $25 and without the local government having to be competent or caring.

One current project that doesn't require any private charity or government assistance that revolves around the Lifestraw is Carbon for Water. Vestergaard Frandsen, a for-profit firm, has been able to distribute 900,000 Lifestraws throughout a province in Kenya by collecting funds via carbon credits that are traded in exchange for the saved carbon from all the firewood that would have been burned. They're now providing safe water to over four million people living in the area. Whatever your view on global warming and carbon credits, not having to have four million people burn firewood everyday while improving their lives and their health is not a bad proposition.

There's also the carry along LifeStraw version that will filter out all bacteria that Vestergaard Frandsen has recently made available to hikers, survivalists, and anyone else stepping out into questionable territory for about $20.

Image: LifeStraw.

This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.