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Article updated: 9/23/2013 4:24 PM

Elk Grove 'filter lady' wins major environmental award

By Jamie Sotonoff

An Elk Grove Village woman has received one of the world's most prestigious environmental awards, the Energy Globe Award, for her work creating sustainable water filters in countries like Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Lisa Ballantine, 47, who has a home in the suburbs but now lives most of the year in the Dominican Republic, said she was flattered to learn her nonprofit, FilterPure, was chosen for the award from 7,000 projects in 161 countries.

FilterPure won the Energy Globe's national award for the Dominican Republic, having made and distributed 60,000 water filters in sustainable factories on the Caribbean island, providing clean water to people who otherwise would have to drink out of polluted rivers.

"I didn't realize the impact it would have on people's lives," Ballantine said. "Now ... people come up to me and say, 'Oh, are you the filter lady? You've helped my family.'"

Continuing with her mission, Ballantine will return home next month to run the Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision, and to host FilterPure's first Chicago fundraiser, "An Evening With FilterPure," a benefit dinner and auction Oct. 12 at L'Eiffel Bistrot in South Barrington.

People who can't attend are invited to bid on auction items online at http://auction.filterpurefilters.org. More than 50 suburban businesses have offered items for bid.

The event will raise money to continue FilterPure's mission, training new teams to work in the factories and manufacture filters. One filter, which costs roughly $30 to make and is sold for $1 or $2, provides clean water for a family for five years.

Ballantine, a mother of four, was inspired to start FilterPure following a yearlong church mission trip to the Dominican Republic in 2000. Using what she learned in a Northern Illinois University ceramics class, she designed (and later patented) a ceramic filter that people in Third World countries can use to provide safe drinking water. She also came up with a way to set up kilns in areas where clean water is needed so communities can manufacture the filters using locally available materials.

"The times it is the most amazing to me is when I see communities that have had the filters for a number of years," she said.

Places where she once saw people suffering from "parasite overload" -- so a 5-year-old would look like a 3-year-old, and eating or drinking anything caused stomach pain -- now have noticeably healthier residents.

Ballantine recently went back to Buyacanes, Dominican Republican, a poor town where she built FilterPure's first kiln five years ago.

"To see that community almost brought me to my knees," she said. "(The filters have) totally changed the community and the way they think. All of them use their filters. All of them keep them clean. Everyone has this conscious awareness of water and the need for purification. I asked this one little boy, 'How do you feel now that you're drinking water from the filter?' And he said, 'My stomach doesn't hurt when I eat anymore!'"

FilterPure has improved its technology to help track distribution and production and is currently working with the Red Cross on a filter distribution system and educational program, among other endeavors.

Ballantine laughs while recalling that she ignored the first email she got, announcing FilterPure's Energy Globe Award.

"I thought (the email) was fake. At first, I just thought, whatever. I honestly didn't believe it. Then they sent me a follow-up email that said it was going be presented at the United Nations," she said. "It's just amazing."

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