testing water in Kenya
MCC photo/Douglas Graber Neufeld

Joseph Mutinda (front), a water engineer who works for MCC's partner Utooni Development Organisation (UDO), and Annah Mutie, a university intern, test water from a scoop hole at one of UDO's sand dams in the Ukambani region of Kenya. Dr. Jonathan Roth of Goshen, Indiana, developed a water testing kit that allows users to test for the presence of E. coli and other coliform bacteria in water.

Providing access to clean water is a passion for MCC. It’s also a passion for supporters like Dr. Jonathan Roth. Through his company, Micrology Labs in Goshen, Indiana, Roth has donated hundreds of water test kits to MCC’s partners around the world.

Roth spent 41 years on the faculty of Goshen College and founded the marine biology program in the Florida Keys.

In 1969 Roth and his wife Mary Ann celebrated the birth of their son Steven, but soon after his arrival Steven suffered a cerebral accident that left him handicapped – unable to see or speak.

With the financial burdens of medical bills, long-term care for Steven and adding two more children to their family, Roth was looking for a way to supplement his income as a professor. This spurred Roth to start a company now called Micrology Labs which continues today.

“The business is a memorial to our son Steven,” said Roth. “It wouldn’t have happened without him. I’m satisfied that the products I’ve invented and developed are something that can help some of the suffering around the world.”

And help, they have. Roth developed a water testing kit that tests for the presence of E. coli and other coliform bacteria in water, which he has made available, free of charge, to MCC.

“Water is the number one problem worldwide,” said Roth. “We felt this was something that could be useful to MCC volunteers, particularly going into third world or underdeveloped areas where water quality is a huge problem.”

MCC has utilized these kits to test water at certain sand dam projects in Kenya. While sand dams can work well to provide access to water, the appearance of “clean” water being filtered by the sand can sometimes be misleading. “Most commonly, the assumption of water purity was based on its appearance – the water was clear, so why should there be worry of contamination?” wrote Doug Graber Neufeld, former MCC WASH advisor, in a report about the project.

It’s simple to use, even for someone without a science background. The operator lifts the top piece of a two-layer card, drops 1 mL of water onto the card and then lets the card sit in a warm place for 24-48 hours. If there is E. coli or other coliform bacteria present, they will show up as dark purple or light blue spots, respectively.

When these communities are given information about the safety of their water supply, they can begin to understand the importance of water treatment and safe storage. Additionally, it provides community-based organizations some needed evidence for action.

“Having firm evidence of the situation with water contamination has moved the issue beyond how we thought about the issue previously, which was based solely on untested assumptions,” wrote Graber Neufeld. “This has motivated these organizations to seek ways to help communities understand and mitigate these health risks.” 

Roth is quick to bring the focus back to Steven. “We had our son for 19 years. Our lives were changed by him, and he changed other lives, too, He’s still affecting lives through this project.”

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