September 5, 1995 in City

Thinking Pure Thoughts Spokane Man Invents New Way To Sanitize Water

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The hardest part for inventor B.J. Adams is getting people past the “that’s impossible” stage.

The 45-year-old Spokane man says he has created a purifying system that could revolutionize the way people clean drinking water.

At a time when rural areas, Third World nations and many large cities are desperate for cleaner water, Adams’ claims should make him a busy man.

Instead, he has had the following conversation many times:

“We’ve created a new system that kills all bugs and germs in water, cheaply, without adding chemicals and without changing water chemistry or temperature,” he says.

The response: tell him: “We’ve spent millions trying to do that - and haven’t. So how could you?”

But the undiscouraged Adams keeps on tinkering with his invention, the Phoenix Biological Disinfectant System.

“This is what invention is - doing what people say is impossible,” said the quiet Adams, whose only college degree is from a two-year electronics program.

What keeps him going are tests showing that the system works, plus comments of people who’ve examined the 11-foot-long device.

Earlier this summer, University of Idaho Assistant Professor Scott Kellogg agreed to examine it, bringing along “the nastiest stuff I could find,” he said.

In Kellogg’s containers were samples of the most noxious organisms found in bad water: pseudomonas, E. coli, staphylococcus, giardia and cryptosporidium, an especially potent parasite.

As a microbiologist, Kellogg knows those substances are becoming a growing threat to water quality around the world. So when Adams claimed he could knock them out easily, Kellogg was curious.

He threw the samples into a tank of water, then waited as the liquid entered the long, narrow set of tubes, boxes and wires that Adams has assembled in a north Spokane workshop.

Several seconds later, what came out proved to be “cleaner than tap water,” Kellogg said.

Kellogg went away convinced that Adams’ invention could help millions of people.

It might aid cities, high-tech electronics firms, developing nations and numerous small water systems that have to deliver clean drinking water.

“This system is a major breakthrough,” Kellogg said. “It doesn’t need to boil the water or throw in a bunch of chlorine.”

If used widely, it might reduce the number of cases of severe stomach disorders or even deaths caused by bad water.

This month, for instance, nearly a dozen Yakima residents fell ill with “beaver fever,” a debilitating reaction to drinking water laced with giardia.

In 1993, about 100 Milwaukee residents died and thousands became sick after that city’s water system was hit with an outbreak of the cryptosporidium parasite.

So far, Adams has built the 11-foot-long commercial version and one mini-model, which he takes to hospitals and businesses for demonstrations.

With four federal patents now granted, he’s hoping Phoenix Water Systems Inc., a Spokane firm, will raise another $2.5 million to bring the product to market.

While the invention’s main goal is knocking out a wide range of organisms and algae, Adams thinks he can “tweak” the technology to do even more.

He says the device, if modified, also could remove nitrates and dissolved chlorine gas - substances that, if concentrated in water, are harmful to humans and animals.

Kellogg says he has no plans to invest in the Phoenix system, but he’s looking for ways to help the company.

“We lost more than 15 million people last year to cholera, a disease mostly in poor countries where the water is bad,” he said.

He has applied for a grant from the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute to study how the Phoenix system works.

Another converted skeptic is Karen Crouse, division director of laboratory epidemiology at the Spokane County Health District.

Crouse and Adams collected a sample of water from Spokane’s wastewater treatment plant earlier this year. That water had not been treated yet with chlorine and was brimming with coliform bacteria, Crouse said.

Adams ran the sample through the system.

“It came back clean,” Crouse said.

Adams passed the treated water around to drink, then took the first swallow when everyone else declined.

Adams calculated that cities the size of Spokane could use 10 of the devices working together to clean 35 million gallons a day coming from a sewage treatment plant.

A commercial-sized unit that could handle about 300,000 gallons of water a day likely would cost under $50,000, said Ray Smith, president of Phoenix Water Systems Inc.

Those who have met Adams describe him as a unique talent - a throwback to the obsessed inventor always working on a new gadget in his garage.

He has taken dozens of courses at area universities. Mostly, he has collected knowledge and tried to apply it to projects he finds interesting.

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years, learning not what they said I had to, but what I needed,” said Adams, twirling and twisting a pencil in his hand.

Dr. Donald Condon, an investor and chairman of Phoenix’s board, said if the product fulfills its potential, some of the credit should go to Smith, the company’s president.

“Ray got B.J. (Billy Joe Adams) to focus, to not just talk about his ideas. Ray could see that B.J. was a genius, one of those people who see no real barriers between disciplines.

“Ray was able to help get B.J.’s idea from drawing board to prototype,” said Condon.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

A LOOK AT HOW IT WORKS “There’s nothing here that isn’t borrowed,” Spokane inventor B.J. Adams says, describing how his water disinfection system works. “But the way it’s all put together is my idea alone.” Adams began studying how people get rid of noxious or dangerous substances several years ago after learning the Army was looking for a portable field water purifier. He discovered no system destroys all organisms cheaply and effectively. Chlorine, for instance, does a good job on some bugs but leaves byproducts that can be harmful. So Adams designed a four-step method of attacking germs and microbes in a system he calls “force at a distance.” In his Phoenix Biological Disinfectant System, dirty water first enters a darkened area to deprive germs of light. Light supposedly activates cell walls to produce a shield against any attacking agent. In step two, Adams’ system shoots high-energy electrons through the water, punching holes into the microbes or bacteria. Step three involves moving the water into a chamber saturated with ultraviolet light. Instead of killing the bugs, the light excites or activates cell walls, much the way microwaves heat up food. Last, electromagnetic pulses change the polarity of the entire tank every millionth of a second. The constant shift in polarity tears the cells apart, Adams said. The result: pieces of dead germs floating around. The pieces are inactive and can be removed with a filter. Tom Sowa

This sidebar appeared with the story:

A LOOK AT HOW IT WORKS “There’s nothing here that isn’t borrowed,” Spokane inventor B.J. Adams says, describing how his water disinfection system works. “But the way it’s all put together is my idea alone.” Adams began studying how people get rid of noxious or dangerous substances several years ago after learning the Army was looking for a portable field water purifier. He discovered no system destroys all organisms cheaply and effectively. Chlorine, for instance, does a good job on some bugs but leaves byproducts that can be harmful. So Adams designed a four-step method of attacking germs and microbes in a system he calls “force at a distance.” In his Phoenix Biological Disinfectant System, dirty water first enters a darkened area to deprive germs of light. Light supposedly activates cell walls to produce a shield against any attacking agent. In step two, Adams’ system shoots high-energy electrons through the water, punching holes into the microbes or bacteria. Step three involves moving the water into a chamber saturated with ultraviolet light. Instead of killing the bugs, the light excites or activates cell walls, much the way microwaves heat up food. Last, electromagnetic pulses change the polarity of the entire tank every millionth of a second. The constant shift in polarity tears the cells apart, Adams said. The result: pieces of dead germs floating around. The pieces are inactive and can be removed with a filter. Tom Sowa


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