West Lafayette, Ind. — A group of Purdue University students and faculty members have completed work on a system that makes safe drinking water available to a community in the Dominican Republic sickened by poor water. About 40 percent of illnesses in Las Canas were due to poor-quality drinking water, and half of the female patients suffered from rashes linked to water exposure. The completed water treatment system uses a sand filtration, low-pressure membrane filtration and chlorination process.

To address the water-quality issues in developing nations around the world, Purdue launched a service-learning class in the fall of 2012. The class has operated as a hybrid learning setting involving conventional classroom lectures, laboratory-based experiments, field measurements and surveys, and construction and implementation of the system.

The six students and faculty members returned from their fourth and final trip to Las Canas this summer.

"We are very proud of our students and their hard work and innovation," said Ernest R. Blatchley, a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering who is the project’s director. "Alongside our coalition partners, they've learned leadership, development and how to work hand-in-hand with a local community.

"When properly operated, the system we developed and installed in Las Canas will yield water that will consistently meet the World Health Organization's standard for E. coli and other potable water indicators."

The School of Civil Engineering, Departments of Agricultural Economics and Food Science in the College of Agriculture, and the School of Nursing collaborated in the initiative.

Work involved coordination with the nonprofit Aqua Clara International of Holland, Michigan, which works to provide affordable and safe water solutions for communities in developing countries.

Rotary International helped to identify communities to work with and in connecting the project team to community leaders in the Dominican Republic.

Las Canas was selected as the location for a pilot system based on communications with project partners. It is expected that the lessons learned in implementing the system there will allow for similar systems to be designed, built and implemented in other communities in the Dominican Republic and perhaps additional countries.

Lack of access to potable water is a chronic problem for 800 million people around the globe — about one-ninth of the world's population — leading to increased rates of morbidity and mortality among people of many developing countries. These effects tend to be most pronounced among women and children, leading to significant developmental and educational setbacks.