MSR Strives to Contribute to UN’s Safe Water Goals

In the developing world, the unfortunate truth is, access to water does not mean access to clean water. Today, 1.8 billion people worldwide still draw their drinking water from fecally contaminated sources, and each day nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water- and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases, according to the United Nations. This fact is the driving force behind the creation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)—one of 17 ambitious global goals established by the United Nations aimed at improving the lives of the world’s poorest people. Adopted in September by 193 UN member states, SDG 6 seeks “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.”

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The disparity between accessible water and safe drinking water is something Zac Gleason, a microbiologist and the manager of MSR’s on-site water research lab, knows all too well. On his recent trip to Kenya and Mali to study the MSR SE200 Chlorine Maker’s impact, Zac performed water quality field tests. His results showed that untreated water was easily contaminated at the source or during transport, and that chlorine was an effective way to kill the pathogens to make that water safe for drinking.

In fact, a recent World Health Organization panel at the Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage meeting discussed chlorine as a potential solution to SDG 6’s water quality targets. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, chlorine’s low cost, ease of use, safety, and effectiveness at killing nearly all pathogens makes it a preferred and widely used disinfectant of drinking water worldwide. Chlorine can be generated on site, even in rural communities around the world, by the proven process of electrolysis of NaCl (salt). With recent technological advancements in smart circuitry that make the electrolysis process simple to carry out, even local communities can generate their own chlorine without access to a reliable supply chain.

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Speaking at a recent WHO panel on Innovation in WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), Glenn Austin, a senior advisor for product development at PATH, identified needs as well as opportunities for businesses to create new methods of manufacturing, application, and distribution of chlorine in the developing world. “We need market-based approaches in order to sustain business and innovation,” he said.

MSR has a long history of developing chlorine-based water treatment devices for different applications and use modes. In 2003, the MSR MIOX Purifier was created to offer the military and outdoor enthusiasts a lightweight, compact solution for disinfecting water. Our new SE200 Community Chlorine Maker incorporates this technology in a product that scales up the chlorine production for whole communities.

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The SE200 Community Chlorine Maker is MSR Global Health’s first product to bring accessible chlorine to the developing world in a low-cost, simple to use solution. Developed in partnership with PATH, the soup-can-sized device turns a brine of salt and water into chlorine through electrolysis. In just 5 minutes, it creates enough chlorine to safely treat 55 gallons (200 liters) of drinking water—one SE200 can treat enough water for a community of 200 people.

The MSR design team is constantly researching new applications for chlorine-based water treatment technologies. We believe cost-effective, practical chlorine production is one major step toward improving the lives and safety of many. “We’ve learned a lot from engineering gear for the military and outdoor world,” says Tim Oriard, MSR’s principal water scientist. “We are now discovering how much these learnings can be translated into the global health arena and have real impact on people living without access to safe drinking water and other basic essentials.”

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MSR’s expertise in engineering, science and manufacturing can help lead to other types of innovation—for water treatment and beyond. We think the private sector can, and should, play an important role in solving global health issues, and that helping our partners make progress toward SDG 6 is a step in the right direction. As a leading outdoor company, we’re committed to using our strengths to develop products for lasting change, whether that’s keeping backpackers safe in the wilderness or innovating for better health in remote, low-resource communities around the world.

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