Making Water Risk-Free

By HSealy
August 3, 2017

Eight cups. That’s the minimum amount of water a person must drink per day according to most doctors.

Water consumption is crucial to human life, and drinking healthy amounts can help regulate weight, body temperature, and even brain function.[1] But the water we drink can also be a source of serious health risks.

When we use water for normal activities — from washing our hands to irrigating crops — it becomes exposed to harmful contaminants. What was initially clean water becomes wastewater, contaminated by domestic pollutants like sewage or industrial waste such as chemical byproducts.[2]

As a former President of the Caribbean Water and Waste Water Association, I’ve seen the damage that water pollution inflicts firsthand.

Wastewater can be deadly. In fact, waterborne diseases have the highest death toll of all illnesses worldwide, killing upwards of 3.4 million people each year.[3] Recently, an outbreak of cholera killed 115 people in Yemen in less than one month.[4]

In addition to spreading human diseases, wastewater can also decimate fish populations and other ocean life. For instance, a four-mile area of the Grand River in Ontario has recently become uninhabitable for mussels — which are found in abundance in all areas of the river apart from that stretch. This lifeless region begins near a sewage plant, where pollutants like ammonia are in high concentration.[5]

But these catastrophic results are preventable. To avoid harming both human life and our environment, polluted water can be treated to remove contaminants and restored to potable quality.

In fact, due to new technologies such as Microbial Electrolytic Carbon Capture, wastewater pollution could soon become a thing of the past. MECC binds pollutants in water with carbon dioxide, turning them into safe byproducts and reducing carbon dioxide emissions to boot. Better yet, the hydrogen gas also produced by the process can be used to generate energy.[6]

This process is still in development. But innovations like these could save millions of lives — and dollars. According to the World Health Organization, poor practices for addressing wastewater discharges from households cost the world around $260 billion per year.[7] And that’s not even factoring in the costs of non-domestic wastewater.

At St. George’s University, we’re challenging our public health students to consider new ways to address issues like wastewater management in courses like Principles of Environmental Health and Environmental Sustainable Development. The exercises our students engage in now could lead them to develop the next innovation in wastewater purification.

With better water treatment practices, our eight daily cups could soon be risk-free.









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