John Laskowski is DeKalb’s City Engineer. He recently went on a trip to San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico, to use his engineering expertise to help people in rural communities create a water filtration system as a part of the Northern Illinois University Chapter of the Engineers Without Borders Program…
Laskowski: Leading up to the project it was a lot of time working with the students and the partnering organization down there which is the Center for Appropriate Technology and Indigenous Sustainability. They had the idea that they were working on the design, but they were having difficulties with certain parts of it, specifically removing fluoride from the water system.
As a professional mentor I provide the working knowledge of how something might operate or the procedure could be implemented. As a group we began working on the design and came up with a way of removing fluoride from water. We tested various materials along the way and this last time we designed a cookstove to produce bonechar, which takes fluoride out of the water. We brought down the design for the cookstove and had the students gather the materials in Mexico. One of the important parts of bringing technology there is to make sure they have the materials available.
Keeperman: What was the biggest challenge?
Laskowski: There were a lot of initial design challenges from an engineering standpoint, but there are a lot of others. What I noticed was there is a trust factor that you have to build. We bring in this filter that they’ve never seen before, and we pour in the water and it’s supposed to come out the bottom clean. It’s almost like magic, so they are a little skeptical.
They did see us test the local water systems and we explained that the levels were high but it takes a while to actually convince people that this is a device you should use, it’s beneficial and these are the reasons why. But when you’ve been doing something traditionally for so long, you kind of question change.
Keeperman: What were the levels of fluoride in the water and what are the health implications of those?
Laskowski: The World Health Organization standard is 1.5 milligrams per liter. Concentrations between 3 milligrams per liter and 6 milligrams per liter start to produce skeletal fluorosis, so your bones can start to weaken as a result of that fluoride.
Crippling fluorosis starts to occur at 10 milligrams per liter. In the areas I was in the average was about 5 milligrams per liter But further out in the rural areas it could be as high as 10 to 24 milligrams per liter. It’s a serious problem…