The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

26 June 2007

Workers of the World Relax

Conrad Schmidt, a Canadian, has the idea that we should work less, consume less and live more.

There are approximately 6.5 billion people on the earth today. As population continues to grow it is becoming clear that the planet is not as big as we once thought it to be; it is also becoming obvious that humans are wreaking havoc upon the environment. The big question we have been trying to solve for the past 100 years is, "how do we maximize production and produce more and more stuff?" The big question we now face is, "what do we do with all the junk and pollution we have created?".

To make matters worse, we now seem more determined than ever to work harder and produce more stuff, which creates this bizarre paradox: we are proudly breaking our backs to decrease the carrying capacity of the planet.

So what is the solution? A great beginning would be to reduce the industrial workweek. We would consume less, produce less, work less, pollute less and live more. Providing that the remaining work be distributed among more people, an industrial slow-down could have the additional benefit of reducing unemployment. Instead of less work for more pay, this is about less work for fair pay and a fairer world.

Conrad has formed the Work Less Party to campaign in Canada for a 32-hour working week in order to reduce our environmental footprint and to share out less work amongst more people. Instead on focusing on the current industrial goals of continuously raising production and making an endless stream of consumer goods that just end up in landfills and pollute the planet, Conrad believes that we should start promoting activities that are not only good for us, but good for the environment as well ¬– like community, arts, music, health, culture, friendships, adventure and education.

Karl Marx urged Workers of the World to Unite – “You have nothing to lose but your chains”. Conrad Schmidt urges Workers of the World to relax – “You have nothing to gain but more freedom”.

The Word Less Party:

What can you do?
1. Downshift in your own life. Move down a gear. Work less, relax more, care more about the planet. See the links below on downshifting.
2. Share your job with someone else. Halve your work for half the pay, but give yourself twice the time to enjoy life or to follow your dreams for a better world.
3. Renounce. The next time you go out to buy something – the latest iPod, a new shirt, bottled of water… ask yourself if you really need it, if you need to buy it. Cut consumption a little, and you will cut your need to earn by a little more (because you are also working to pay taxes to the government).

National Downshifting Week:
Carl Honore’s book “In Praise of Slow”:

Life straw

Today, more than one billion people of the world’s population are without access to safe water. At any given moment, about half of the world's poor are suffering from waterborne diseases; over 6,000 (mainly children) die each day through consuming unsafe drinking water. And hundreds of millions of women and girls lose their dignity, their energy and their time in bringing this unsafe water into their households.

Safe water solutions, therefore, have a vast potential to transform the lives of millions, and improve the quality of life, facilitate child development and help move towards a greater gender equality.

LifeStraw® was developed as one practical solution to this problem.

Vestergaard Frandsen is also addressing other issues by designing longer-lasting mosquito nets and plastic sheeting for insect control

The FiltaStraw
The Vestergaard Frandsen Group was founded in Denmark in 1957, and is now headquartered in Switzerland with branch offices around the developing world.

One of its products is the FiltaStraw, a portable water filtration and purification device. It measures 250mm long by 29mm in diameter. It weighs just 95 grams and has a rope attachment that allows it to simply hang around your neck.

The FiltaStraw has a 3 stage particle filtration system which will filter down to 15 microns. Its first filter is a pre-filter of PE filter textile with a mesh of 100 microns, followed by a second polyester filter with a mesh opening of just 15 microns. The FiltaStraw is capable of filtering around 700 litres of water which is enough to provide a one year’s water requirement for most people.

Using this method all large particles are filtered out, even clusters of bacteria are removed. The water is then led into a chamber of Iodine impregnated beads where bacteria, viruses and parasites are killed.

The second chamber has a void where the Iodine having been washed off the beads can do its job. The last chamber consists of granulated activated carbon. Its role is to take away the main part of the smell of the Iodine, and to take away the parasites that have not been removed by the pre-filter or killed by the Iodine.

The biggest parasites will be filtered by the pre-filter, the weakest will be killed by the Iodine and the medium range will be killed by the activated carbon.

How to use a FiltaStraw
1. Remove the FiltaStraw from its protective packaging. Remove the lower cap with your finger nail then remove the small cover that covers the mouthpiece.
2. Place the FiltaStraw in the suspect water and suck steadily on the mouthpiece. When the water arrives in your mouth for the first few times you should spit it out as this water will contain some black carbon particulate. It is not dangerous but it is better to spit it out anyway. Continue to suck steadily on the FiltaStraw until you have satisfied your thirst.
3. On completion simply blow back through the FiltaStraw to help cleanse it and remove some of the particulates that may have gathered on the first pre-filter.

The FiltaStraw cost £5 for each straw; but there are considerable savings on bulk orders.

Arsenic in drinking water

Arsenic is found in water which has flowed through arsenic-rich rocks. Severe health effects have been observed in populations drinking arsenic-rich water over long periods in countries all over the world.

In Bangladesh, in West Bengal (India) and in some other areas, most drinking-water used to be collected from open dug wells and ponds with little or no arsenic. But the contaminated water transmitted diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis.

Over the past 30 years, programmes to provide "safe" drinking-water by digging tube wells have helped to control these diseases. Until the discovery of arsenic in groundwater in 1993, well water was generally regarded as safe for drinking. But it is now known that there can be unexpected side-effects caused by substances such as arsenic or fluorides contained in the groundwater. This then exposes the population to serious health problems.

There are between 8-12 million shallow tube-wells in Bangladesh. Up to 90% of the Bangladesh population of 130 million drink well water. Piped water supplies are available to a little more than 10% of the total population who live in the main urban areas and some district towns.

The most commonly manifested disease so far is skin lesions. Over the next decade, skin and internal cancers are likely to become the principal human health concern arising from arsenic. According to some estimates, arsenic in drinking-water will cause up to 270,000 deaths from cancer in Bangladesh alone.

Arsenic in drinking-water is a new and unfamiliar problem – both to the population as a whole as well as to professional health workers. There are millions of people who may be affected by drinking arsenic-rich water, whose health and well-being is now at risk, and even more people in the future are likely to suffer from the arsenic which is building up in their bodies as a result of water they have already consumed.

• Arsenic is widely distributed throughout the earth's crust.
• Arsenic is introduced into water through the dissolution of minerals and ores, and concentrations in groundwater in some areas are elevated as a result of erosion from local rocks.
• Industrial effluents also contribute arsenic to water in some areas.
• Arsenic is also used commercially e.g. in alloying agents and wood preservatives.
• Combustion of fossil fuels is a source of arsenic in the environment through disperse atmospheric deposition.
• Inorganic arsenic can occur in the environment in several forms but in natural waters, and thus in drinking-water, it is mostly found as trivalent arsenite (As(III)) or pentavalent arsenate (As (V)). Organic arsenic species, abundant in seafood, are very much less harmful to health, and are readily eliminated by the body.
• Drinking-water poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic. Exposure at work and mining and industrial emissions may also be significant locally.

• Chronic arsenic poisoning, as occurs after long-term exposure through drinking- water is very different to acute poisoning. Immediate symptoms on an acute poisoning typically include vomiting, oesophageal and abdominal pain, and bloody "rice water" diarrhoea. Chelation therapy may be effective in acute poisoning but should not be used against long-term poisoning.
• The symptoms and signs that arsenic causes, appear to differ between individuals, population groups and geographic areas. Thus, there is no universal definition of the disease caused by arsenic. This complicates the assessment of the burden on health of arsenic. Similarly, there is no method to identify those cases of internal cancer that were caused by arsenic from cancers induced by other factors.
• Long-term exposure to arsenic via drinking-water causes cancer of the skin, lungs, urinary bladder, and kidney, as well as other skin changes such as pigmentation changes and thickening (hyperkeratosis).
• Increased risks of lung and bladder cancer and of arsenic-associated skin lesions have been observed at drinking-water arsenic concentrations of less than 0.05 mg/L.
• Absorption of arsenic through the skin is minimal and thus hand-washing, bathing, laundry, etc. with water containing arsenic do not pose human health risk.
• Following long-term exposure, the first changes are usually observed in the skin: pigmentation changes, and then hyperkeratosis. Cancer is a late phenomenon, and usually takes more than 10 years to develop.
• The relationship between arsenic exposure and other health effects is not clear-cut. For example, some studies have reported hypertensive and cardiovascular disease, diabetes and reproductive effects.
• Exposure to arsenic via drinking-water has been shown to cause a severe disease of blood vessels leading to gangrene in China (Province of Taiwan), known as 'black foot disease'. This disease has not been observed in other parts of the world, and it is possible that malnutrition contributes to its development. However, studies in several countries have demonstrated that arsenic causes other, less severe forms of peripheral vascular disease.

A simple solution?
A professor who developed an inexpensive, easy-to-make system for filtering arsenic from well water has won a $1 million engineering.

The National Academy of Engineering awarded the 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability to Abul Hussam, a chemistry professor at George Mason University in Fairfax. Hussam's invention is already in use today, preventing serious health problems in residents of the professor's native Bangladesh.

Hussam spent years testing hundreds of prototype filtration systems. His final innovation is a simple, maintenance-free system that uses sand, charcoal, bits of brick and shards of a type of cast iron. Each filter has 20 pounds of porous iron, which forms a chemical bond with arsenic. The filter removes almost every trace of arsenic from well water.

About 200 filtration systems are being made each week in Kushtia, Bangladesh, for about $40 each. More than 30,000 have been distributed so far. Hussam plans to use 70% of his prize to distribute filters to poor communities; 25% will be used for more research; and 5% will be donated to George Mason University.

The prize is funded by the Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois. The aim of the contest was to target the arsenic problem. The challenge was looking for an affordable, reliable and environmentally friendly solution to the arsenic problem that did not require electricity.

The Grainger Challenge:
Read the World Health Organisation factsheet on arsenic in water: