Ron Rivera (public health)
Ronald "Ron" Rivera was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 activist best known for developing an inexpensive ceramic water filter
Ceramic water filter
Ceramic water filters are an inexpensive and effective type of water filter, that rely on the small pore size of ceramic material to filter dirt, debris, and bacteria out of water.-Method of action:...

 used to treat gray water in impoverished communities and for establishing community-based factories to produce the filters around the world.

Life and career

Born in The Bronx
The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also known as Bronx County, the last of the 62 counties of New York State to be incorporated...

 of Puerto Rican parents and raised in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

, Rivera graduated from The World University
The World University (Puerto Rico)
The World University was an accredited university based in Puerto Rico which was in operation from 1965 to 1989.It was founded by John Brann and was accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities and the Council of Puerto Rico Accreditation of Higher Learning. One notable...

 in San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan , officially Municipio de la Ciudad Capital San Juan Bautista , is the capital and most populous municipality in Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 395,326 making it the 46th-largest city under the jurisdiction of...

. He also studied at the School for International Training.
Rivera worked with the Peace Corps
Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, as well as a government agency of the same name. The mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand US culture, and helping...

 in Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 and Ecuador
Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

, and with Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Founded in 1943 by the U.S. bishops, the agency provides assistance to 130 million people in more than 90 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and...

 in Bolivia
Bolivia officially known as Plurinational State of Bolivia , is a landlocked country in central South America. It is the poorest country in South America...

. He founded the local consultancy office for the Inter American Foundation in Ecuador where he worked until 1988, when he moved to Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...


Rivera first became passionate about ceramics in the early 1970s when he studied with Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire
Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was a Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy.-Biography:...

 and Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich
Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and "maverick social critic" of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.- Personal life...

 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. From these teachers, he learned that human beings had lost their connection with the earth. He then went to live with an experienced potter and learned the art of ceramics, one of the great passions of his life.

After moving to Nicaragua in the late 1980s, where he reunited with (and eventually married) his high-school sweetheart, Kathy McBride, Rivera worked for over two decades with potters from rural communities in Nicaragua, helping them to enhance their production methods, including the implementation of a more fuel-efficient kiln developed by Manny Hernandez
Manny Hernández
Manuel Antonio Hernández Montas is a former professional baseball pitcher. He played parts of three seasons in Major League Baseball for the Houston Astros and New York Mets ....

, a professor at Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University is a state university and research institution located in DeKalb, Illinois, with satellite centers in Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Rockford, and Oregon. It was originally founded as Northern Illinois State Normal School on May 22, 1895 by Illinois Governor John P...

. He also worked with potters around the country to develop new designs and to connect to new markets.

He first learned of ceramic pot filters from Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

n chemist Fernando Mazariegos. The filters are made with a mix of local terra-cotta clay and sawdust
Sawdust is a by-product of cutting lumber with a saw, composed of fine particles of wood. It can present a hazard in manufacturing industries, especially in terms of its flammability....

 or other combustible materials, such as rice
Rice is the seed of the monocot plants Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrima . As a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and the West Indies...

 husks. The combustible ingredient, which has been milled and screened, burns out in the firing, leaving a network of fine pores. After firing, the filter is coated with colloidal silver
Colloidal silver
The medical uses of silver include its incorporation into wound dressings to treat external infections, and its use as an antiseptic and disinfectant in medical appliances...

. This combination of fine pore size and the bactericidal properties of colloidal silver produce an effective filter, killing over 98 percent of the contaminants that cause diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

, thus dramatically reducing public health problems in the communities that use them to purify potable water.

The Family Foundation of the Americas, a Guatemalan organization, conducted a one year follow-up study on the initial Mazariegos-led filter project, concluding that this filter helped to reduce the incidence of diarrhea in participating households by as much as 50 percent. Laboratory testing and field studies have been performed on the filter by various institutions, including MIT, Tulane University, University of Colorado and University of North Carolina.

Rivera began manufacturing the pots through Potters for Peace
Potters For Peace
Potters for Peace is a nonprofit organization that has created a network of potters and other relevant parties to improve quality of life and preserve tradition using local skills and materials. PFP primarily works in Central America and has headquarters in Brisbee, Arizona. PFP manages projects...

 in Nicaragua, eventually helping to establish an independent enterprise to produce the filters.

Ron Rivera, Lynette Yetter, Jeff Rogers and Reid Harvey co-authored the paper, "A Sustainable Ceramic Water Filter for Household Purification," which Lynette Yetter presented at a NSF Conference in 2000.

Beginning in 1998, Rivera traveled throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia to establish 30 filter microenterprises in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

, Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

, Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

, Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

, Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

, Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

, El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

, the Darfur
Darfur is a region in western Sudan. An independent sultanate for several hundred years, it was incorporated into Sudan by Anglo-Egyptian forces in 1916. The region is divided into three federal states: West Darfur, South Darfur, and North Darfur...

 region of Sudan
Sudan , officially the Republic of the Sudan , is a country in North Africa, sometimes considered part of the Middle East politically. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the...

, Myanmar
Burma , officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar , is a country in Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest, and the Andaman Sea on the south....

 and other countries. These factories have produced over 300,000 filters, and the filters are used by about 1.5 million people to date. An additional 13 filter workshops are scheduled to begin operating by the end of next year.

The filter has been cited by the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

’ Appropriate Technology Handbook, and tens of thousands of filters have been distributed worldwide by organizations such as International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, Plan International, Project Concern International
Project Concern International
PCI , , is a non-profit, humanitarian NGO is a San Diego, California-based non-profit health and humanitarian aid organization dedicated to preventing disease, improving community health, and promoting sustainable development...

, International Development Enterprises
International Development Enterprises
IDE - International Development Enterprises, founded in 1981 by Paul Polak, is an international not-for-profit corporation devoted to the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of affordable, scalable micro-irrigation and other low-cost water recovery systems throughout the developing world...

, Oxfam
Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. In all Oxfam’s actions, the ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives...

 and USAID.

Rivera’s filters were included in an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum called "Design for the Other 90 Percent."

Rivera died in Managua, Nicaragua on September 3, 2008, after contracting falciparum malaria (also known as "cerebral malaria") while working in Nigeria. A memorial service held in Managua on September 6 at the Central American University was attended by hundreds, including scores of local potters.

See also

  • List of famous Puerto Ricans
  • Puerto Rican scientists and inventors

External links

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