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A fluid situation

Donations help Puralytics provide water purification systems to typhoon relief


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ed Kolasinski and Mark Owen of Puralytics stand amidst boxes of SolarBag water purification packs that are ready to be shipped to the Philippines. To paraphrase an ancient literary fable, in the typhoon-devastated Philippine Islands, water is everywhere, but barely a drop is fit to drink.

Thanks to a deceivingly simple, yet ingenious water-purification device and a cadre of generous donors, a Beaverton-based company is helping to hydrate thousands of disaster victims — an absolute necessity as the food- and clean water-deprived region struggles to get back on its collective feet.

Puralytics, headquartered in a Greenbrier Parkway office park since 2009, works with government agencies, emergency response and aid organizations in the Philippines to get its SolarBag purification kits to Typhoon Haiyan’s hardest-hit victims.

The typhoon pummeled the islands in early November and claimed more than 5,000 lives.

Mark Owen, Puralytics’ founder and chief executive officer, developed the SolarBag, one of several Puralytics’ water purification products. It uses sunlight and a nanotechnology-coated mesh to purify, store and deliver 3 liters of water at a time.

With the 25 SolarBags per shipping box capable of producing 10,000 gallons of purified water, Owen estimates the devices have supplied 105,000 gallons of treated, potable water to the Philippines through medical relief teams including Forward Edge International and Tigard-based Medical Teams International.

“One of the medical teams had a flight out (of Portland International Airport) on Wednesday morning, so we got the boxes to them on Tuesday night,” Owen said on Friday. “If they had more room, we could’ve (provided) more.” by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Puralytics CEO Mark Owen holds a water purification backpack that is shipped to places around the world that are dealing with natural disasters.

While the bags were designed for rural and developing areas lacking treated water sources as well as in recreational pursuits such as backpacking and hiking, Owen realized they could serve a larger, life-saving purpose in times of disaster.

“As soon as the typhoon hit, our distributor donated (its) supply of SolarBags to the Tacloban City (capital of Leyte province) chamber of commerce and contacted us to help identify aid partners and business funding sources in the Philippines and explore shipping options,” he said, noting aid organizations preparing to send assessment teams into the region were sending requests. “We decided we would give priority to aid organizations who were sending teams quickly and could quickly deploy SolarBags to those in need.”

Those interested in helping the cause are encouraged to donate through Puralytics’ website, puralytics.com/html/projectsPhilippinesRelief.php. The company applies 100 percent of any donation to supply SolarBags for distribution.

“We were hoping to get $50,000 by Thanksgiving,” Owen said.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Water purification backpacks made by Puralytics are shipped to places around the world that are dealing with natural disasters, like the Philippines.

Water at the ready

The SolarBag, an unassuming looking filter-and-bladder kit, can be used several times per day, regardless if the sky is clear or cloudy, with no chemicals or pumps required. When its nanotech-coated mesh absorbs sunlight, it attracts contaminants that a resulting photochemical process breaks down to carbon dioxide, which the water safely absorbs.

“You pour water in and pour water out of (one port),” Owen explains of the SolarBag, “and it destroys everything, with no remaining byproducts or filters that have to be removed — and no chemicals. You can continue to use it about 500 times. It just keeps going.”

In the long run, filtering water from various local sources at a disaster site is more efficient than shipping in large quantities of bottled water to protect the aid and emergency responders as well as those immediately displaced.

“This water is the most expensive water on the planet,” he noted.

After about a week, as the process becomes impractical, aid agencies switch to interim disinfection strategies such as chlorine tablets. Although they disinfect the water, the tablets can’t remove the chemical toxins they carry.

The SolarBag and The Shield — Puralytics’ powered, higher-volume solar purification system, which can provide water for a small community, school or hospital — meets Environmental Protection Agency World Health Organization’s “highly protective” safe water guidelines, Owen said.

“Water becomes the biggest risk after the first days of the crisis, and may continue to be for weeks, months, or even years ahead,” he added. “Imagine if the aid organizations passed out SolarBags instead of bottled water or chlorine tablets in the early days of a disaster, how many more people would be helped in a time of need.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton-based Puralytics is working with aid organizations to ship its SolarBag water purification systems to typhoon-devastated areas of the Philippines.