Environmental engineers test water filters

By Jane Gervasoni, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Public Health CommandFebruary 21, 2014

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the United States, we take safe drinking water for granted. Our warfighters do not have this luxury when they are on the battlefield.

The U.S. Army Public Health Command has been working across services to address the need for water production and quality surveillance at remote, austere locations, according to Art Lundquist, an environmental engineer in the Drinking Water and Sanitation Program.

"We have been supporting the acquisition communities since 2005 through the research, development, testing and evaluation phases to ensure the end products are protective of warfighter health," he said.

At large bases, bulk water production is managed by military occupational specialty-trained personnel operating complex water treatment systems. Smaller, remote bases often do not have the personnel to staff these production facilities, nor do they need potable water in the large quantities supplied by this equipment.

"The current solution to ensure military personnel have clean, safe drinking water often involves transporting bulk and bottled water to remote bases in deployed locations," explained Lundquist.

This option has disadvantages with regards to packaging, transport, time, personnel and force protection. However, there are other options for providing safe drinking water in austere, remote environments.

"The U.S. military lacks a materiel solution for producing water at the unit level; however the commercial market offers numerous options that purport to fill this gap," Lundquist said. "The services are evaluating commercial products and developing requirements to feed into a future program for fielding new equipment."

In the meantime, individual water purifiers are an option that helps ensure Soldiers on missions have safe water to drink.

"For individual warfighter use during emergencies, or while on short-term planned missions, the Army has an established program and is evaluating individual water purifiers that are designed to work with personal hydration systems," said Lundquist.

Drinking Water and Sanitation Program personnel have been working with Jeffrey Dunn, a project engineer from the Natick (Mass.) Soldier Research Development and Engineering and the Aberdeen Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to test the performance of individual water purifiers, according to Lundquist.

Lundquist said ATC tested the devices for their ability to withstand exposure to environmental conditions such as freezing and thawing, vibration, compression and shock. The ATC pass/fail standard for these tests was based on visual inspection of the devices--were they damaged or broken?

The DWSP then used an evaluation process developed in the program to determine if the devices were still able to provide safe drinking water after being subjected to the physical and environmental stressors.

"We pumped contaminated water through each candidate filter then analyzed the water to see if coliform and Escherichia coli bacteria from the contaminated water had been filtered out," explained Lundquist. "The data was then provided to ATC to document water purifier performance and to assist decision-makers in determining if the candidates meet Army requirements."

The DWSP evaluation provided a cost-effective means to document the integrity of the filter after the environmental testing. DWSP will continue to provide technical support to acquisition programs targeting safe water production in remote environments to help protect the health of warfighters.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command