This powder is cleaning drinking water all over the world and transforming lives
True
P&G

Imagine you grab a cup of water to drink, and it’s so murky that you can’t even see through it. Would you drink it?

For many people around the world, this isn’t a hypothetical question because they don’t have a choice.

All images via P&G Children's Safe Drinking Water.


Right now, 663 million people around the world don't have access to clean drinking water. Some live in rural areas where there is no centralized water system or water treatment plant, meaning that they rely on local river or lake water. Others live in areas still recovering from a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood, and the water is contaminated.

Faced with no other water source, they are forced to drink the water they have access to — even if it could lead to sickness or serious diseases, such as cholera or typhoid.

But what if there were an easy — and affordable — way to purify even the most contaminated water and make it clean enough to drink? Well, it turns out there is.

In 1999, Phil Souter, a chemist and an associate director of research and development at P&G, was working on a project to effectively recycle laundry water when he had an idea. He wanted to create a powder packet — like a detergent — that could scrub cloudy and dirty water of anything harmful and turn it into safe drinking water.

So he put together a proposal, got it approved, and went to work.

"What I was trying to do was miniaturize what takes place in water treatment plants," he explains, "and miniaturize that into a packet that a consumer could easily use, that wasn’t expensive, and that was a bit of a one-size-fits-all so that it could literally treat any source of drinking water."

Creating such a solution was no easy feat.

To be successful, the packet would need to be able to kill off any and all bacteria and small parasites found in all kinds of different water sources, from lakes and rivers to wells and flood waters, while also being able to remove heavy metals and other harmful chemicals.

And it would need to do this in an inexpensive, timely way (because who wants to sit around for hours waiting for a drink of water?). Of course, the new, clearer water would also need to taste good (not like a bunch of chemicals — yuck). Plus, all of the steps to do this would have to fit into a small sachet — no special equipment allowed. Oh, and it also would need to have a decent shelf life so that it could be distributed without expiring before it even got there.

"So really, there were a lot of technical challenges to solve," Souter says.

But after a little over two years of testing and development, Souter and his team created a powder that could do everything it needed to do.

It's called the P&G Purifier of Water sachet.

Just 4 grams of the powder can clean up to 10 liters (2.6 gallons) of dirty water in just 30 minutes. The purifying packets are about the size of a teabag, and they have a shelf life of three years, meaning that it is easy to stockpile them in places that need them.

The best part? The water purification process could not be simpler: All you need is the packet, a bucket of water, a stick, and a cloth.

Here's how it works:

First, you stir the water and powder for five minutes so that harmful things — such as heavy metals, parasites, and dirt — are pulled out from the water and they coagulate together to form small insoluble particles. The water immediately starts to look clearer.

Then you let the water settle for five minutes. This is when all those small particles clump together — in a process called flocculation — to form bigger, heavier particles that fall to the bottom of the water container.

Once all the clumps have settled, you can strain the water with a piece of cloth or fabric as you pour it into a new, fresh container.

Then you let the water sit for 20 minutes while the water disinfects and kills any remaining bacteria and viruses. After that, the clean water is drinkable (and it can be stored for later).

So far, the water purification packets have been incredibly helpful in addressing water crises and shortages all over the world.  

The packets remove more than 99.9% of common waterborne bacteria, viruses, and protozoa (microbial organisms) from water, and they have helped reduce the incidence of diarrheal disease by up to 90%.

"For those rural communities that don’t have access to a sustained water solution — like a pipe system — these packets are an excellent solution that can be a bridge to those more permanent options for communities," says Allison Tummon-Kamphuis, manager of P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. They can also make a big difference after a natural disaster.

Since the packets were created, P&G has worked with 150 different partners around the world — including CARE, ChildFund, PSI, Save the Children, and World Vision — to provide 11 billion liters of clean water to those in need.

And the company is continuing to scale up work to help distribute the packets to even more places that need them. In fact, the packets were named one of the world’s most impactful innovations in 2012.

The packets are having a particularly important role in improving the health of children around the world. "I meet so many little girls around the world — I have two daughters myself," Tummon-Kamphuis says, "and to meet young girls who have all sorts of dreams and seeing them have some of the barriers removed that would have gotten in the way of them achieving them is very memorable to me. And it’s not just young girls. It’s boys as well."

While Souter has moved on to other research and development projects at P&G, he still remains proud of the work that he did on bringing these packets into the world.

"My work on this project has been a source of both personal pride and humble understanding," he said in 2012, "as I've come to realize that every once in a while, life puts us in a position — opens to us a door — to make a difference."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less