Science Breakthroughs: Cleaning Up the Nation’s Water

Posted by Emerald Coast Medical Association on Apr 27, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Water is a fundamental human need. From drinking to cooking to bathing, everyone must have water. But polluted water isn’t just dirty, it is deadly. Cholera. Botulism. Dysentery. These are just a few of the many diseases that can be transmitted by water. Some 1.8 million people die every year of waterborne diarrheal diseases. Tens of millions of others around the world suffer serious illnesses from an array of water-related ailments, many of which are easily preventable.

Even in the United States, access to pure water has been a problem in some communities. Everyone has seen the story of Flint, Michigan and their toxic drinking water in the news, but lesser known issues exist in municipal water storage tanks around the USA.

In many municipal tanks, the lines in and out are at the bottom of the tank. This means the water on top is never used and can become stagnant. Even though the water supply is generally treated with chlorine, the top layer in these tanks can breed algae or bacteria when the water is undisturbed for long periods. If something such as a fire causes more water than usual to be used, people in the community end up drinking the stagnant, bacteria-filled water and can fall ill.

But there is hope on the horizon.

Brian Barkdoll, a professor in Michigan Tech's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Mohammad Alizadeh Fard, a doctoral student in his department, are developing low-tech, affordable solutions to improve water quality in municipal water tanks, and to remove micro-pollutants from water using renewable materials. Their work proves that solutions to vexing problems can be elegant in their simplicity.

To remedy the stagnation problem, Alizadeh Fard and Barkdoll have created shower-like attachments that can be added to new or existing water tanks. Adding a PVC-pipe sprinkler at the top of the tank, and a reverse sprinkler at the bottom of the tank, fresh water is injected into the system and all the water circulates and stays fresh. These attachments can be added at a very low cost to the municipality.

The researchers have also been working on ways to clean up micro-pollutants from the municipal water supply. Things like pharmaceuticals, hormones, anti-fungal compounds and BPA can be present in tiny amounts but still pose a health risk to consumers. Current water treatment plants were not designed with these micro-pollutants in mind and retrofitting them is costly. They are currently testing polymer-coated magnetic nano-particles that attract the pollutants and can be easily removed from water with magnets, rinsed in a special chemical solution, and re-used several times without loss of effectiveness.

These research breakthroughs are great news for the health of the nation and possibly even the world. As medical professionals, we must be aware of the dangers of both water-borne illness and carcinogenic micro-pollutants. Emerald Coast Medical Association is committed to bringing our members the most important and interesting scientific research on things that impact the health of our patients. We know the best practitioners are the ones who are aware of not just advances in healthcare, but in all areas of research that impact the human condition. Click below to learn more about what benefits membership in ECMA holds and how you can join us for upcoming member events.

Topics: News, Prevention

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