An Interview with Howard Dryden
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A close conversation with our Technical Director Howard Dryden. A look into his past, his work and what changes he wants to make in the world.
What are the water health missions that drive you?
80% of all disease in developing countries is from the consumption of contaminated water, or poor water quality. More people die from drinking toxic water than all human disease combined. In all my travels in India, Bangladesh and South East Asia I have never seen a rural community or peri-urban drinking water system running successfully for more than 12 months, there has been 100% failure of all the technology. We need to do something about this.
“More people die from drinking toxic water than all human disease combined.”
What is your professional background?
As a marine biologist I completed a PhD on water treatment specifically for the aquaculture industry. If fish don’t have perfect water, they die and the company loses money. I soon realised that when people don’t have clean water, they also die or contract a disease, but if nobody loses money, then it doesn’t seem to matter.
I was fortunate enough to do a project with the European Commission and Indian Government to try and provide clean drinking water from the River Ganga. 40 years ago infant mortality was running at 30% up to about 2 months of age. To fight this, the World Bank financed the sinking of tube wells to abstract clean water from under-ground. Everyone thought that this would solve the problem, and it did for a while. However, the water quality under-ground changed, and natural arsenic started to go into solution and come out in the tube-well water. It has become the greatest human poisoning in history with some ¼ billion people in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam suffering from arsenic poisoning. My project with the Commission was about using the River Ganga to provide clean water, and treating the ground water to remove the arsenic. The project was a success, we were able to achieve the task using our AFM activated filter media in a standard pressure sand filter.
AFM is an activated media based on my PhD research and manufactured by Dryden Aqua by up-cycling 50% of all the coloured glass bottles in Scotland and Switzerland.
The Indian project was a success, and this was nearly 10 years ago. While the project was a success, I knew that it would ultimately end in failure, because the pressure sand filer for the AFM depended on difficult to maintain valves, pumps and PLC controllers. We therefore set about to redesign how a sand filter for AFM could work and not depend on valves, pumps and sophisticated control systems. In effect, we needed to make a filter that was automatic and could be left in a remote Indian village without fear of it breaking down. It was also a requirement that it could run for 30+ years and not depend upon expensive chemicals or power.
We succeeded in this challenge and CAFE was born.
“If fish don’t have perfect water, they die and the company loses money. I soon realised that when people don’t have clean water, they also die or contract a disease, but if nobody loses money, then it doesn’t seem to matter.”
How did you get involved with CWW?
We needed a mechanism to deliver the CAFE filter, we felt that we should not personally profit financially from the development, a social enterprise structure with a 100% asset lock was considered the best platform to help engage with other companies and to deliver the solution. This saw the inception of Clean Water Wave.
What is your role at CWW?
I am the Technical Director for the company, essentially, I solve water quality and technical problems and help with the sales of the product.
“I solve water quality and technical problems and well as help with the sales of the product.”
What impact can CWW have on the world?
If we can make Clean Water Wave and the CAFE filter fly, it has the potential to eliminate 80% of the disease in developing countries, transform economies and eliminate aquatic pollution. CAFE could also save the planet by helping mitigate climate change as part of the Eden Cycle System
“If we can make Clean Water Wave and the CAFE filter fly, it has the potential to eliminate 80% of the disease in developing countries.”
What has been your proudest moment?
When the automatic siphon worked for the first time, it confirmed that we had a system that could run by itself with no valves or control systems.
What has been the most surprising or shocking thing that you have learned so far in the water sector?
The main focus of water companies is to make money, they do not care about public health.
By way of example, most of the water in Scotland is treated by a process called chloramination. The water in Scotland is soft and slightly acidic, it may also contain humic acids. When chlorine is added to this water it forms chloroform with the organic acids. The chloroform levels would exceed the European Commission standards, so they add ammonium to the water. The ammonium reacts with the chlorine to remove the chlorine and form a secondary chemical called monochloramine. This chemical has a 2000 times lower oxidation capacity than chlorine, so the water is no longer being disinfected, but it does not form chloroform.
Scottish Water say that this is safe, and indeed the entire water industry say it is safe, and they are correct, monochloramine is a safe chemical. The problem is that when your drink the water, the monochloramine reacts with the acid in your stomach to form trichloramine, and this chemical is toxic. Trichloramine is the chemical you smell in a swimming pool, it causes eye damage, and lung damage when you breath in the gas, we have known about this for decades. When you are drinking the water, the trichloramine attacks your intestine and causes potentially serious damage as well as cancer and predisposes you to a range of other gastric conditions and infections.
In Germany if you filled a pool with Scottish drinking water, the entire pool would need to be evacuated because it would be considered too dangerous, not only to be in the pool water but to be in the same building, yet in Scotland we are drinking the water.
“In Germany if you filled a pool with Scottish drinking water, the entire pool would need to be evacuated because it would be considered too dangerous, not only to be in the pool water but to be in the same building, yet in Scotland we are drinking the water.”
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Sailing, walking, research, but I would say Clean Water Wave is a mission, it is not work.
We are a group of pioneers, scientists, philanthropists, economists and storytellers challenging the way clean water is provided globally.
Internationally recognised in our fields, each member of the team has hands on experience of working in the field and has helped to develop our technology. Together, we have the scientific, technical, commercial and critical community engagement skills to deliver and make the Clean Water Wave mission a reality.