Abt Associates Principal Scientist Peter Chandonait Wins USAID’s Grand Prize

Award Recognizes PMI AIRS for Developing and Implementing the Mobile Soak Pit as an Innovative Approach

Grand Prize Winner of USAID’s Innovation for Action Award Peter Chandonait helps to install a mobile soak pit.

The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project’s very own Peter Chandonait is the Grand Prize Winner of USAID’s Innovation to Action Award. Chandonait, a Principal Scientist for Abt Associates and the PMI AIRS Project’s Director of Environmental Compliance and Safety, was awarded the prize for creating and driving the adoption of a mobile soak pit (MSP), a type of water filter that has improved operational efficiency, produced cost savings, and extended the reach of the project, thereby improving USAID’s overall program impact.

The Innovation to Action Award, a USAID Catalyst Award, recognizes USAID staff and implementing partners who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in motivating teams to test or implement innovative approaches through active or recently closed USAID projects/programs to increase program impact. Catalyst Award winners showcase the importance of exhibiting a culture of innovation at USAID that seeks to catalyze the next generation of breakthrough innovations and advance our mission of ending extreme poverty and supporting inclusive growth.

Clean-up is an essential part of the indoor residual spraying (IRS) process, and contaminated water is generated from rinsing spray tanks and washing personal protective equipment (PPE). IRS programs use soak pits – large, in-ground filters – to adsorb, filter and then safely degrade the traces of insecticide found in the wastewater. In many spray areas, soak pits are permanent installations built of concrete, stone, and carbon, and located in a central area that is accessible to spray teams at the end of their workday. In hard to reach areas, spray teams often camp out for days at a time, as it is difficult or impossible for them to return to a central operational site for the end-of-the-day cleanup.

The MSP consists of a 5-gallon plastic container with layers of sponge particulate filtration, nylon screening, and activated carbon. The mobile soak pit weighs about 10 kilos, and can be carried to a spray location and installed in minutes, allowing a traveling IRS spray team to clean up quickly and immediately after completion of daily spraying. When operations are complete in the local area, the MSP and associated equipment are removed, and the hole where the soak pit was installed is refilled. The site is restored to its original condition, leaving a barely noticeable environmental footprint. The MSPs retain potentially hazardous wastes in the activated charcoal media for later incineration compliant with international standards.

Chandonait investigated and optimized the MSP design in a home laboratory, and pilot-tested the concept in Madagascar in 2013 and 2014. Abt’s Principal Associate and Ecologist David Mitchell conducted laboratory tests that confirmed the ability of the filter to reduce effluent concentrations of two insecticides (Actellic 300-CS and Ficam VC) used by the PMI AIRS Project. Field testing demonstrated the ease of installation and use, resulting in improved and

more consistent standards of clean-up, decreased transportation requirements, improved spray team working conditions, and reduced potential for operator exposure to insecticide. Findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Management. The article “Mobile soak pits improve spray team mobility, productivity and safety of PMI malaria control programs” can be read here.

MSPs are now being used in 10 of the 12 PMI AIRS countries, and in 2016, AIRS employed more than 240 MSPs. In addition, several countries have adopted the use of the MSP within their own IRS program. This video shows how to build an MSP from simple materials.

An awards ceremony will be held in Washington, D.C. during Global Innovation Week at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center from 5:00 – 6:30 PM on Thursday, September 28th. PMI Health Science Specialist Allison Belemvire, Abt Senior Associate Eugene Kiti, Abt Project Assistant Officer Tahini Masihelison, and retired Abt Ecologist David Mitchell will also be recognized for their support of this important innovation.