After Hurricanes, Chemical Engineering Students Lead Puerto Rico Relief Effort

Giuseppe Costanza ’19 and Samantha Rosado led a year-long relief effort in Puerto Rico beginning in 2017.

In the weeks following Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which occurred in September 2017 and were both classified as Category 5 hurricanes, droves of Manhattan College students, faculty and administrators jumped in to help the situation in Puerto Rico.

By late fall, chemical engineering majors Giuseppe Costanza ’19 and Samantha Rosado had joined a team led by Gennaro Maffia, Ph.D., professor of engineering, to begin an initiative to restore clean water and energy to Puerto Rico. With assistance from assistant kinesiology professor Christie Gonzalez-Toro, Ph.D., who is native to the island, and insight from Maffia, who has prior experience with developing water filtration systems in Haiti, Mexico, Panama, and the Philippines, they set their sights on a location in need: the Colegio De La Salle in Añasco, a Lasallian grade school, which was suffering from erratic water and power service.  

The school included kindergarten through 12th grade, and approximately 170 students who, in the Hurricane’s aftermath, didn’t have access to clean water and were forced to leave school midday because there was no electricity.

With funding from a variety of sources, 20 miniature water filters from the company Sawyer Products were sent to the school in December, and an instructional video on how to use them was produced on campus and posted in Spanish on YouTube and to the Colegio’s Facebook page. The Sawyer MINI filters were chosen for their portability and ease of use — small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, the devices also include an attached drinking pouch and straw to drink directly from a water source.

March 2018

During the College’s spring break in March, Maffia, Giuseppe Costanza ’19 and Samantha Rosado ’19, along with Andrew Nodolski, chemical engineering professor at Widener University, and Sebastian Torres, a chemical engineering student at University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, traveled to Colegio de La Salle.

Once there, they determined that the best solution would be to install an elevated tank and filter to bring clean water into the Colegio. The team also took measurements for possibly installing solar power. In the interim, they would attach a Sawyer Products filter to a hand pump, which could be manually operated. 

Spring 2018

Maffia, Costanza and Rosado returned to campus already in the throes of planning their next trip down to the island, for which they would order necessary supplies to build the proposed water filtration system.

In early May, the students hosted a pasta dinner with food donated by Claudio’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Manhattan owned by Costanza’s parents. They collected more than $1,000, which directly benefited the equipment purchased for Añasco.

In choosing the safest and most functional location at the Colegio for the elevated water tank, the chemical engineers pulled in civil engineering professor Daniel Hochstein, Ph.D., for his insight in soil mechanics — areas where soil could sustain the weight of the tank and water would be essential in choosing a location. 

June 2018

In preparation for their upcoming trip in August, the travel team met in the Leo Hall chemical engineering lab to mock-create the system they’d designed and would be transporting to Puerto Rico, as they determined the logistics of the elevated tank — a 10-inch Sawyer Products filter attached to a hand pump, which would supply clean water to the school. Facilitating the trial run were the Manhattan chemical engineers, civil engineering students led by Hochstein, and Nodolski, who traveled from Widener.

August 2018

Once in Añasco, the team began installing a mobile water cart that included the Sawyer filter, hand pump, and hoses that could distribute the clean water to bottles and other storage units. A 20-gallon water cooler was added for extra functionality. Ease of use was important because the device would be used by school administrators: all they needed to do was fill the hand pump with water and manually pump it so that the water would flow through the filter, filling up the water cooler. Clean water would stream through the hose, and once the tank was full, operators could open the installed valve, and unfiltered water would run off the gutter.

The system proved to be functional. They were now able to lay the groundwork for fulfilling the ultimate goal — a 2,500-gallon tank that would filter rainwater and water from the city of Añasco and supply water to the entire school.

Unfortunately, at this stage of the project, it was announced that the Añasco school would shutter at the end of the 2019 academic year. But that doesn’t make the Manhattan group’s dedication any less significant. Through their efforts, they are living out the Lasallian Catholic mission of John Baptist de La Salle, according to Brother Jack Curran, FSC, Ph.D., vice president for mission.

"Costanza and Rosado, both inspired and mentored by Dr. Maffia, are obviously accomplished in their academic achievements,” says Br. Jack. “In their pursuit of civic engagement and success, and service to their fellow human beings, they also are exemplary in bringing to life the Lasallian Catholic mission of Manhattan College.”

After graduation, Rosado will begin a job at Thermo Systems, as Costanza begins working in the research and development sector of Reckitt Benckiser, a multinational consumer goods company.

By Christine Loughran