JACKSONVILLE, Alabama — How the groundbreaking techniques enacted by the innovative LifeStraw to eliminate aqua-pathogens so effortlessly is perhaps a positive, sheer mind-bender. However, a look into the origins and progressions behind the life-saving device dispels any overwhelming confusion or misunderstanding of the product.
Widely noted, automobiles account as the number one factor in global accident-related deaths; however, water-borne illnesses secure second place in millions of deaths across the globe.
In 1992, Danish native Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen was granted the opportunity to witness the dire water issue during a business trip to Lagos, Nigeria.
The then-19-year-old Frandsen, who shied away from the family business (Vestergaard Frandsen) of uniform production, witnessed the lack of necessities that could grant a secure, healthy environment within the African region.
Motivated, Frandsen discussed with his family business if he could proceed further on “adventurous” work in Africa. His family agreed to grant Frandsen the opportunity; however, they requested the integration of their obligated terms into his “adventurous” work.
Initially, Frandsen was directed to get rid of “more than one million square yards of surplus fabric,” according to Newsweek.
This task, among others, were achieved when Frandsen was able to sell the spliced-woolen material to aid organizations, alongside the delivery of tsetse fly traps, wash-resistant mosquito nets and plastic-sheet-substituting blankets. The efforts would further emphasize Vestergaard Frandsen as a “90 percent malaria prevention” company.
These achievements would notably reshape the then-young Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen’s former thoughts on his work in Africa from an “adventurous” experience to a “humanitarian” gesture.
In fact, Frandsen’s experience helped him develop the idea for a device with the ability to treat tainted water.
In 1996, that device became LifeStraw, which originally served as an effective weapon against the Guinea worm, a water-borne pathogen that breeds underneath the skin.
During development, Frandsen collaborated with The Carter Center on design. The respective collaborators agreed on the invention’s design: a portable instrument made from a metal pipe with a fabric textile screen filter.
The plan proved successful and resulted in LifeStraw selling 23 million units to The Carter Center, revealed Vestergaard Frandsen spokesman Peter Cleary in an interview with IRIN.
Following the successful collaborative measures in minimizing the Guinea worm, LifeStraw creators saw an alternate purpose for the device as a handheld-filtration system for bacterial-induced water.
It was in mid-January 2005 that LifeStraw saw public exposure via media sources like Gizmag, when announcements detailed the device’s purpose to combat the global threat of water-borne bacterial microorganisms triggering illnesses.
LifeStraw would go on to win the esteemed INDEX2005 award for its designated approach at saving large numbers of lives, in addition to receiving Time Magazine’s recognition as the “best invention of 2005.”
In October 2005, LifeStraw’s Chief Executive Officer Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen issued a release statement, detailing the foundation’s goal to reduce the rate of unsanitary water access in half by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals.
The device, which filters an average 700 liters of water, often lasts one year from the start of usage. During its first use, the first 40 milliliter sips from the device dispel harmless black carbon liquid which is recommended to be spat out.
When cleaning the product, makers of LifeStraw explained to consumers that they need to blow out their “last gulp of water” upon every use to ensure safety.
Furthermore, the World Health Organization has additionally advised consumers to ingest two liters per day to meet the product’s potential 365-day expectancy.
Structurally, LifeStraw contains a set of three textile pre-filters, one of which retains iodizing elements that both serve as a disinfectant and active carbon to both kill and remove bacteria on contact.
Although the techniques are effective, LifeStraw producer Alan Mortensen reminded consumers that 99.99 percentt of pathogens are removed; leaving a potential chance of minimal to no taste of remaining cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).
Moreover, in 2006, it was reported that during its initial test-run, LifeStraw had difficulty removing giardia, or “beaver fever;” a dangerous pathogenic-disease that is highly resistant to iodizing elements. In 2008, reporting press IRIN noted that LifeStraw had implemented a new component that could easily remove “beaver fever” and other iodine-resistant parasites.
Not only has LifeStraw gone through stages to further enhance and maintain its performance, but the life-saving device has additionally experienced fluctuating pricing processes to secure a proper, fruitful distribution.
In 2005, upon its initial test review, LifeStraw was predicted to price fewer than $2, according to digital news outlets like Gizmag and engadget. However, the following year, the invention’s marketing producer Alan Mortensen confirmed to the BBC that the device would be priced at $3.50.
When announcement for the $3.50 price broke, accompanying aid organizations such as U.K. organization WaterAid critiqued LifeStraw representatives for overlooking the fact that the impoverished often retain an income of less than $3 per day on average.
WaterAid spokesman Paul Hetherington backhanded LifeStraw by applauding the device for its effective use in filtering water, but noted that it didn’t prevent the lengthy travel that uneducated youths must take to retrieve water. Another WaterAid representative would go on to echo similar criticism via IRIN denouncing LifeStraw as “unsustainable,” and yearned for a more effective tool that would prevent polluted water rather than treating it.
Nevertheless, criticism has not impeded LifeStraw’s success.
In 2008, several health organizations including UNICEF, Red Cross, Rotary International and IMA World Health teamed up with LifeStraw as partner groups to distribute thousands of units throughout countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
This progressing partnership would go on to alter the fate of the product’s price set; initiating a range from $17 to $20 apiece for every 500 to 3,000 units sold.
With regard to its commercial availability, LifeStraw, which once was strictly serviced to institutional and charitable foundations, saw public release in North America in September 2011 via select online sites for $20 following a 2007 approval process by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Popular Science.
In 2012, one year following its mass production release, LifeStraw abandoned the use of iodizing chemicals to eliminate bacteria following concerns of the potential overpowering taste of iodine. Instead, mechanical filtration coupled with hollow fibers serve as the modern-day replacement.
Lately, LifeStraw continues to expand in a variety of ways, including the launch of several product forms like LifeStraw Family, as a hopeful effort to appeal to potential consumers everywhere around the world.
On May 18, 2015, PRNewsire reported that LifeStraw launched its latest product, LifeStraw Mission, which entails a purifying, durable nylon roll bag, capable of retaining five to 12 liters of water utilized for highly-effective filtration. A potential price range for the “first gravity powered water purifier” is expected to range from $120 to $130 at REI.
– Jeff Varner
Sources: Gizmag, LifeStraw, Engadget, BBC, Treehugger, NY Times 1, IRIN, Popular Science, Newsweek, Medgadget, NY Times 2, How Stuff Works, PRNewswire 1, PRNewswire 2
Photo: Legacy Survival Gear