People Making a Difference: Bob Hildreth and Lisa Ballantine
These two innovators, working independently, provide cheap, effective filters that make polluted water potable.
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Originally from the Chicago area, Ms. Ballantine came to Jarabacoa as a missionary in 2000. After seeing the poverty surrounding her, she wanted to provide practical help. So after her mission was over, she studied ceramics at Northern Illinois University and, in 2006, she returned with her ceramic pot filter idea.Skip to next paragraph
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The basic design is nearly two centuries old. Some 170 years ago, amid concerns about cholera, Queen Victoria asked London's Royal Doulton china company to design a water filter. Versions of its design are now used in places such as Cambodia and Honduras.
With help from Manny Hernandez, her ceramics mentor at Northern Illinois, Ballantine has improved on the design, she says. Ceramic filters typically are coated with silver particles. The silver's ionic charge kills microbes on contact. But rather than painting the silver onto the pot, Ballantine mixes it – along with fine sawdust no greater than 1/50th of a human hair in diameter – directly into the clay. The sawdust burns off, leaving minuscule silver-coated chambers. Microbes passing through come into more contact with the silver, and the filter has a much longer life – about five years, she says.
With her partner, Tracy Hawkins, who works in Tanzania, she's founded Filter Pure. Lifelong potter Radhamés Carela from nearby Moca runs her factory. Their goal: Create a model for making high-quality filters with low-tech equipment that's exportable anywhere. At full capacity, the factory can produce 1,000 filter per month. So far, she's given out more than 11,000 filters in the Dominican Republic.
On a sunny March day, Ballantine drives her pickup truck into a muddy, flood-prone neighborhood called "la joya de Jarabacoa." Today, she's giving out filters donated by a church in Streamwood, Ill. A jostling crowd of children forms around the truck. Adults emerge from hammered-together shacks to ask for them.
Typically, residents here buy water from passing trucks that sell it in large plastic jugs. The quality of that water can vary greatly.
But with monthly incomes here averaging about $200, buying a $25 filter can still seem too expensive. Resident Estamilado Durán estimates that of the 300 families in the neighborhood, perhaps five or 10 could afford it.
Ballantine is undeterred. The filter may seem expensive, she tells them in Spanish, but if they account for what they spend on bottled water now – $171 per year per family, she estimates – the savings are readily apparent.
By comparison, using a filter would cost a family less than 2 cents per day, she says.r