By Anna Lardinois
Stonehouse Water Technologies primary goal is to “bring clean, healthy water to a water stressed world.” Initially, key members of the leadership team, CEO Hensley Foster, and Vice President Anne Wick, collaborated to provide clean water solutions to developing nations.
But they soon discovered that many Wisconsinites lack access to safe, clean drinking water. For many in the freshwater rich Great Lakes region, that information is shocking.
“Water is our passion,” she continued. “We want to enhance people’s health. We want to keep people healthy and vital. When you have healthy people, you have healthy communities, you have a healthy economy, you have a healthy world. So, we’re very passionate about what we do as far as always coming up with the best technology out there to keep people healthy.”
“We have an arsenic and lead problem here, especially arsenic in our wells and in our tap water because our infrastructures are getting old,” said Wick, a registered nurse. She notes the problem is not limited to heavy metal contaminants, like lead and arsenic. Pharmaceuticals and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are found in tap water throughout the United States.
Seeing a need for clean water in their own community, the Stonehouse Water Technologies began to work on a solution. Foster and Wick brought on Dr. Moe Mukiibi, an internationally recognized expert in water safety, to join the team as the President and CTO.
After years of testing and development, the company patented an in-home appliance that cleans water. WaterPOD is a “whole home, on demand purification system” that treats the water as it comes into the home, or “at the tap,” as the team calls it, rather than at individual faucets inside of the home. Equipped with smart technology, the appliance uses chemical-free filters to treat water.
Milwaukee is a global leader in water treatment, but many Milwaukeeans are drinking contaminated water.
Foster, an engineer, explains, “The water that we produce in Milwaukee is some of the best water treatment in the world. They really took the crypto crisis and converted it into world class water treatment. The problem is EPA is only regulating that water (at the treatment facility), not the water that comes into your house and out of the water that you use at the tap.”
“We know that the equipment and management of it (the water) and everything at the water works level is really first class,” he said. “But we’ve got hundreds of years old infrastructure in the ground. That is really a tough thing to wrap your arms around, because you couldn’t replace it all at one time. It’s a network. We’re all connected to each other.”
“In the beginning, that was a great way to do it,” continued Foster. “But with all the expansion and everything else, we’re just so connected with everything that’s in the city that if anybody’s got any bad water, we’re going to get some of it. And most people don’t know that.”
“The EPA does not regulate houses. The DNR does not regulate houses. They don’t want to. And I wouldn’t want to if I was them because there are just too many variables out there,” he said. Foster predicts, “the future is going to demand that every home and every building has the ability to treat the water just before they use it.”
The team is devoted to educating people on water safety, and the implications of being exposed to contaminated water.
Wick shares the adage of the number three she learned during her career as a registered nurse, “You can live without oxygen for about three minutes. You can live without food for about three weeks, and you can live without water for about three days. So, water is life. We can’t live without water. We’re blessed to live by a Great Lake, and we have to take care of this beautiful water and also what’s underneath the ground.”
“Usually when people get sick quickly, they think of food poisoning. People don’t put the connection together,” she said. “It could possibly be what we’re drinking. Think of all of the things that are made with water.”
“Think about bathing in contaminated water,” she continued. “What if you have a hangnail or a cut? Our skin is our largest organ in our body, and it’s very absorptive. And, if you’re showering people, you’re breathing in the steam, you’re breathing in these droplets. You think, ‘oh, what’s a couple of droplets going to do?’ But over time, you’d be amazed that it doesn’t take much. It accumulates in your body.”
“I’m amazed at the connections that they’re making now between Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are slow developing neurological disorders. You don’t see the manifestations of this until you’re in your 60s or 70s. They’re starting to put the dots together between contaminants in drinking water and consuming it over periods of time.”
Milwaukee is in the midst of a water crisis.
An estimated 70,000 households in the City of Milwaukee have interior plumbing with lead pipes. Lead has been conclusively linked to cognitive decline and behavioral issues in children who have been exposed to the toxin. Stonehouse Water Technologies wants to become part of the solution to this crisis.
The company is collaborating with Community Water Services on a soon to be launched initiative to install water processors and new piping into selected homes to provide those families with clean, lead-free water.
The suburbs are not immune to the woes of contaminated water. Agricultural run-off and improper chemical disposal have polluted wells and aquifers all over the state. Homes that do not use treated water from municipalities may be at a greater risk, because well water testing is not a regulated mandate. In response to that reality, WaterPOD purifiers are already filtering water in a number of Wisconsin homes.
Manufactured in Waukesha and ready to scale, WaterPOD is currently on the market. The startup is primarily self-funded, with the addition of a 2017 angel investment of $1.55 million. While still new, the company has already launched a spin-off, Stonehouse Innovations, dedicated to new product development.
The broad launch of the purifier is likely to invite discussions about Wisconsin water safety. To learn more about WaterPOD technology, and follow the growth of Stonehouse Water Technologies, click here.