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  • Microbes Beware

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2008
Michael A. Greenwood

Your throat is parched, and you could drink a gallon of water, but you’ve just arrived at a faraway destination where the local water quality comes with no guarantees.

Do you:

1) Gulp down the water anyway and risk days of gut-wrenching agony and sickness in some hotel room?

2) Go without water and slowly dehydrate?

3) Pull out a handheld device, zap the hordes of invisible microbes, and then drink to your heart’s content without a care about giardia’s revenge?


UV light is used to neutralize a host of microbes commonly found in tainted water. Courtesy of Hydro-Photon Inc.

Option three is probably the most attractive and now is a possibility with the release of the SteriPen journeyLCD by Hydro-Photon Inc. of Blue Hill, Maine. The device — to be available in April — relies on UV light to destroy a range of nasty things that thrive in tainted water, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa such as giardia. The UV light works because it disrupts the DNA of microbes and because, without functional DNA, the microbes cannot reproduce and cause sickness.

The tip of the battery-powered device must be immersed in the water that is undergoing treatment, and an LCD readout lets the user know how much time remains before the purification is complete. The device can treat a pint of water in 48 s, but larger quantities require more time (a quart can be decontaminated in 90 s). A happy face on the readout signals when the job is done. The company says that the procedure does not give water an aftertaste.

Measuring 7.3 inches long and weighing 4.9 ounces, the device is designed to be portable.

Besides international travel, the purifier is meant for backpackers (who often take water from streams or lakes) and for emergency preparedness kits. The lamp has an expected lifetime of 10,000 treatments, or about 2500 gallons.

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