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Science Nation: Engineering Safer Drinking Water in Africa

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. Watching a video...

[explosion]

This is a well where we took a water sample, which I took back and tested for fluoride and pH.

(male narrator) Access to safe drinking water is a global problem for nearly a billion people. For about 200 million, many in Africa, high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the water causes disfiguring dental and skeletal disease. Dental fluorosis is a darkening of the teeth.

(Describer) Laura Brunson:

There's a social stigma attached to it, maybe a poverty stigma. Skeletal fluorosis is much more physically debilitating.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, University of Oklahoma environmental scientist Laura Brunson is on the case.

(Describer) She filters liquid.

She's developing fluoride filtering devices that use cheap materials, readily available in the villages, like charred animal bones or charred wood.

(Describer) People walk along a street.

During recent fieldwork in Ethiopia, her team set up their lab in the bathroom of a local guesthouse and started experimenting.

(Brunson) Are there things we can add or ways we can alter the bone char either through some oxidation process or adding something like aluminum to the material to make it more effective.

(narrator) Brunson says many water projects in developing countries fail for obvious reasons: money runs out or machinery breaks down.

(Brunson) Of the seven or eight communities we visited, maybe two had functioning treatment systems.

(narrator) But equally important, she says, are cultural factors-- figuring out how to get the community behind a water filtering project. The team talked to many people and asked many questions.

(Brunson) How do you use water? What do you think about the current treatment system?

(Describer) She speaks in a lecture hall.

(narrator) Brunson, who also teaches in the college of business, says getting communities committed to water treatment could also be a moneymaking opportunity for local people.

(Brunson) If you're selling char that helps people get treated water, and you're making enough money to be self-sustaining, then you can keep going.

(narrator) Science and local entrepreneurship coming together to make affordable, safe water available to millions. What a clean, clear idea. For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Access to safe drinking water is a global problem for nearly a billion people. For approximately 200 million people, many in Africa, high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the water cause disfiguring and debilitating dental and skeletal disease. University of Oklahoma environmental scientist Laura Brunson is back from Ethiopia where, with support from the National Science Foundation, she’s developing fluoride filtering devices that use inexpensive materials readily available right there in the villages.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
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Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12