Local company sanitizing water in Haiti

6:14 PM, Aug 5, 2011   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - Flooding is a new concern for Haitians after tropical storm Emily dumped heavy rain on the country.

High waters are threatening dozens of homes and could further contaminate the country's water supply, leading to more cases of cholera. But, a West Michigan company says it has a solution. It's created a product that kills bacteria in contaminated water.

"Water born diseases are the number one killer in the world. Every 20 seconds a child dies of water born diseases," says Bill Burmeister. A former chemist, he created Safi, a copper/zinc solution that sterilizes contaminated water. 

The United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) asked Burmeister and his partners at Clean Water Environmental to bring Safi to Haiti, where there was a cholera outbreak near the end of May.  "It was to the point, where 20 people came down from the village and they were scared to death. They already had 30 deaths in their community."

There had been heavy rains and human waste got into the food chain and water system. "We train them to go in and spray counter tops, wash down desks, spray the latrine, spray outside where school kids fall in dirt and put their hands in their mouth."

After the treatments, there were no more cases of cholera and no more deaths.

"It works, it's safe, and they realize it," says Dr. Dale Williams, a retired physician. He says the most common anti-bacterial, is chlorine, but people don't like it. "Chlorine is distasteful, it's got a bad taste, and it has a bad odor."

He says Safi, does not. That's why it's gaining popularity. "They're looking for our product because it's tasteless, odorless, and has a whole lot of other uses."

And without a sanitary waste system, Haitians continue to spread disease. For Burmeister and Williams, if their product can save just one child, it's worth it.

The team will head out to Haiti again next week.

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