Environmental Engineering Students Work to Improve Drinking Water in Kenya, Vietnam


Environmental engineering students working with Professor and Associate Dean Dr. Laura Lackey are performing research to improve drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa through the Mercer On Mission program.

The aim of the project is to bring water closer to villages and to use local resources to build and install point-of-use biosand filters (BSFs) in the homes in the communities the project serves.

The BSFs treat surface water gathered from lakes, rivers and mud holes. Treatment with BSFs decreases the quantity of pathogenic material in the water, and students are conducting experiments to quantify the impact of adding a metallic biocide to the filters. The type and placement of the biocide in the BSFs are also being investigated.

Kenya“Mercer On Mission has strengthened my desire to work in development,” said Erin Brett, a senior environmental engineering student. “I want to provide engineering solutions to international water problems. Mercer On Mission-Kenya gave me the opportunity to learn about sustainability and applying technology that is focused on improving water quality in developing settings.”

Dr. Lackey’s team is using the research conducted for sub-Saharan Africa to also improve drinking water quality in Vietnam, which is not only contaminated with potential pathogenic material, but also with a variety of chemicals from agricultural runoff and industrial emissions. Research is being conducted that combines two filtering techniques – a technique that incorporates charcoal to remove the chemical contaminants and a BSF to remove pathogenic material from water.

“Working hand-in-hand with local community members teaching them how to build, operate, and maintain biosand filters taught me the importance of collaboration,” Brett said. “I learned that there is beauty in simplicity and that water is an incredibly valuable resource that is a huge indicator of standard of living and health.”