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About Us

 

Burt Cohen is the executive director of Potters Without Borders working to improve the technology of low cost ceramic water filtration. Originally trained in India and Japan, Burt has worked as a potter in British Colombia, Canada since 1979.

For the past 15 years, Burt Cohen has entertained visitors by throwing some clay on a wheel and heating up his kiln to make bowls, mugs and plates at his pottery studio at O'Keefe Ranch.However, this past weekend, Cohen opened his studio to work on a project that goes beyond art, one that will affect people's lives in developing countries that go without clean drinking water.A group of engineering students from Seattle University were at the ranch to learn about a ceramic water filtration project, and specifically how the filters are made.Found to be an effective method to clean out the four most common water-borne diseases - E. coli, giardia, cholera and cryptosporidium - the filters are part of a global-scale project Cohen has been working on as a founding member and principle director of Potters without Borders."The WHO (World Health Organization) has come up with a protocol to deal with problems with water by 50 per cent by 2015," said Cohen.

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I am trained in small industry and was a kiln builder by trade," said Cohen.Potters without Borders, which was modelled after Potters for Peace, was founded by Cohen and six other individuals from B.C. a year ago."There were some things we could do here in Canada that the international organization, which is based in the U.S., could not, including work in Cuba… We have a little more freedom," said Cohen.It has been a busy few months for Potters without Borders, which has received a number of requests to develop ceramic water filter manufacturing facilities overseas."We have an open source philosophy… Anyone can make the filters.We give them the assistance to form a facility," said Cohen.

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The finished form is then dried and fired to 850 to 950 degrees Celsius, which Cohen says is cold for ceramics.When the filters emerge, they are float tested and made sure the water travels through them removing the harmful bacteria.Cohen has developed a research station at his O'Keefe Ranch studio, and has developed relationships with two universities in Washington state, Seattle and Gonzaga in Spokane, to develop and work on aspects of the technology, hence, the weekend workshop with the Seattle students."Professor Dr. Frank Shih at the Seattle University College of Engineering has been my liaison for this research," said Cohen."We have given them a list of our research needs, and they have chosen an area they want to work with."(The students) are addressing the area of combustible material.And in order for them to do their research, they needed to learn how to form the filters, and that's why they were here."Cohen has also spoken to medical doctor William Duke at the University of Victoria, who had agreed to assess the filters.

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We can use as much material assistance as possible," said Cohen.

 

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