College of Engineering News Room

USF International Development Engineering Program Receives Water Charities Grant

The grant will help to reduce lead (Pb) levels in drinking water in Madagascar.

Madagascar 1

Young Malagasy girl obtaining water from locally manufactured hand. (photo: Michael MacCarthy)

Madagascar 2

Former USF graduate student Brad Akers sampling for lead in water from household pumps in Madagascar. (photo: Brad Akers)

University of South Florida (USF) Civil & Environmental Engineering professors James Mihelcic, Maya Trotz, and Jeff Cunningham are recipients of a $24,500 grant to improve health in Madagascar. The goal of their project is to improve health and community well-being by reducing Lead (Pb) concentrations below World Health Organization guidelines in water supplied by locally-manufactured hand pumps in Madagascar.

Ninety-two percent of Madagascar's 22.9 million people live on less than US $2 a day and over half lack access to safe water. USF researchers and graduate students affiliated with the International Development Engineering Program had previously identified unsafe lead concentrations in water provided by locally manufactured hand pumps. They also identified a simple solution, replacing lead weights found in two check valves of the hand pump with weights manufactured with locally re-purposed iron.

The grant funds will be used to replace lead-containing components of wells, train pump manufacturers to use non-lead components, and educate homeowners. USF will partner with Ranontsika, a local Malagasy nongovernmental organization that aims to improve public health in Madagascar by promoting access to high quality drinking water through a social business service franchise model. The director of Ranontsika is a former graduate student of Professor Mihelcic's.

The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead in drinking water. This is because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Pregnant women and young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. In the United States the health impacts of lead in drinking water have gained extensive national exposure after the situations of lead poisoning associated with drinking water was identified in Flint (Michigan) and Washington D.C.

In the past five years Water Charities Fundraising has awarded grants to charitable organizations working to provide clean water, improved sanitation, and reliable infrastructure in communities around the world. They host Jammin'4Water every year, a live musical performance that occurs at the Water Environment Federation's Technical Exhibition and Conference which is the largest annual water quality event in the world.