Plumbing Industry Veteran Applies Product-Development Skills To Bring Clean Drinking Water To East Africa

March 8, 2013
Don Arnold, a 50-year veteran of the U.S. plumbing industry, is striving to change that unhappy reality for families in East Africa.

GURNEE, ILL. — Life depends on water. Health depends on safe, clean water. In most places on the planet, this basic building block for life is taken for granted – open the tap and there it is. However, in 2013, many countries still lack ready access to safe, clean water. 

Don Arnold, a 50-year veteran of the U.S. plumbing industry, is striving to change that unhappy reality for families in East Africa. Utilizing “slow-sand filtration,” a basic technology that is more than 200 years old, Arnold is working with Safe Water Team-Kenya (SWT-K), a subsidiary of the Michigan nonprofit Safe Water Team, Inc., to introduce BioSand water filtration units in villages throughout that country.  

Produced and distributed under the Hydraid brand name, the filtration units are made in the United States by Cascade Engineering, with resins donated by the Dow Chemical Company. In addition to other countries served, they are now shipped to a new distribution center that SWT-K opened last year in western Kenya. This facility recently received its first container shipment of 2,250 filters, and deployment to villages throughout the country is now underway. 

Journey of a lifetime: Arnold’s professional journey – from developing $1,000 faucets for affluent Westerners to meeting the basic water needs of the poor in Africa – began during this first visit to Kenya and Uganda five years ago. “I was struck by the appalling kinds of water most people are forced to use,” recalls Arnold. 

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw people gathered at a muddy stream filling containers with the only water in the area,” he continues. “I was told they would take that filthy stuff home for drinking and cooking. Many would get sick, and some would die.” 

Motivated to find a practical water-filtration solution that required little or no upkeep, Arnold landed on the BioSand filter, a point-of-use iteration of a technology that has been used on a large scale in municipalities around the world since the 1800s.  

“I knew that any number of water-purification options could help the situation,” he continues. “But the more I spent time immersed in the realities of life in the villages, the more I saw how often devices and systems that require periodic maintenance – such as replacing a filter cartridge or adding a chemical such as chlorine – often fall into disuse.” 

The breakthrough in adapting the slow-sand filtration technology for use in individual homes came through the research and product development of Canadian professor David Manz, who has created both concrete and plastic filters that currently provide safe water in many countries around the world, including Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Ghana and now Kenya.  

Arnold then made contact with the Triple Quest division of Cascade Engineering, the supplier and licensee of Dr. Manz’ plastic version of the BioSand filtration unit, marketed under the Hydraid brand name.  

Technology minimalist:As an engineer who regularly consults with some of the most recognized names in the plumbing industry, Arnold was impressed with the simplicity and effectiveness of the Hydraid filters. About size of a tall waste basket, the simple system can filter as many as 75 gallons of water a day.  

“What continues to make BioSand unique among the purification technologies is that it is still the only natural one,” Arnold explains. “Using just common sand and gravel as the filtering media, a naturally-forming biological layer at the top typically destroys more than 90% of the bacteria and viruses in the water, as well as all the parasites. In simple terms, ‘the good guys eat the bad guys.’” 

Arnold’s vision is to expand his efforts beyond Kenya and make safe drinking water a reality throughout East Africa. “The scale-up capabilities of our facility in western Kenya and our staff are unlimited, says Arnold. “The only limitation is funding to support that growth.” 

Vacation with a purpose:Arnold invites companies and individuals, both inside and outside the plumbing and water purification industries to help in this effort. Financial aid is one vital part of the equation, and donations can be made at But Arnold also welcomes on-the-ground support, with individuals embarking upon what he calls “a vacation with a purpose” in Africa. 

“Come over and work with us,” says Arnold. “I guarantee it will be a life-changing experience. However you may have been defining success in your life until now, this is even better. It will take you from success to significance.” 

The Safe Water Team is a Michigan nonprofit (501 c 3) committed to connecting organizations concerned with the growing dangers surrounding safe drinking water and sanitation issues around the world with communities in need. 

Their focus is on practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with our growing team of partners, allowing individuals, individual churches and corporations to strategically work with communities, aid organizations and governmental bodies to provide families in need with a sustainable safe water delivery system for pennies per day. 

Their goal is to enable both our partners and the communities we serve by providing opportunities for organizations and individuals to participate with those in need at levels that transcend philanthropy and focus on education, positive social change and human sustainability. 

Don Arnold is the owner of INTER/SOURCE, the consultancy he established 34 years ago to work with manufacturers. He has devoted most of his professional life to developing new technologies for plumbing products, with roles ranging from designing and marketing to writing and training.

A long-time editorial contributor to the national plumbing trade journal Supply House Times, Arnold is the author of College of Product Knowledge, the product-training course introduced by Supply House Times in 1979. Don Arnold can be reached at INTER/SOURCE, 646 Williams Court, Gurnee, IL 60031, 847/918-7015; or e-mail: [email protected]

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