Category Archives: News

A Low Cost Filtration System for Africa

Children collecting water

Two students at Penn State’s School of International Affairs developed a low-cost water filtration system which can be used in many parts of Africa. Kory Hansen and Jin Ju Kim are part of the school’s Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program. Their challenge was to use no more than 2 people and no more than $200 in just 2 days to create a water filter based on resources available in Africa.

When the students tested the filters on campus, it removed 99.9% of bacteria and would drastically help a communty’s water burden if the system could be recreated in Africa. An integral part of the design of the filter was its commitment to local African resources in order to ensure sustainablilty in the future.

Naturally, Kim and Hansen hit obstacles during their quest for clean water, especially once they arrived in Africa. Other than the language barriers, they said the people were warm, welcoming, and very eager to help them with their project. They have both decided to continue their work with this project and other non-profit groups to help those in Africa. Nearly 3.4 million people die each year from lack of access to clean water. Millions more have to walk miles to retrieve water for their family or community, but more often than not, the water is not fit for drinking. Luckily, many people in Africa may have the opportunity to begin filtering their water thanks to these two students from Penn State’s HESE program!

The Global Water Crisis

You've probably been hearing more and more about the growing concern for the global water crisis. Frequently, countries like India, China, and many African nations are mentioned when discussing the need for clean drinking water. Many people don't realize that the water crisis also hits us at home and our neighbor, Canada.

Love the Earth

Climate change and population explosion are just two factors in the global water crisis. Nearly 800 million people worldwide don't have access to clean drinking water and another 2.5 billion are without sanitation. It's expected by the year 2030, the worldwide demand for water will outweigh supply by 40%.

Many people think Canada has one of the most abundant fresh water supplies in the world, however it only has about 2.5% of the world's supply. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts and reduced spending, the Canadian government has done very little to enact federal regulations on conservation and water quality for its citizens. What regulations and standards the Canadian government does have, many people feel it is old and outdated.

 

In America, many regions used to face water restrictions in the hottest parts of the summer. Now, those restrictions are lasting most, if not all of the year. Due to farm waste runoff, septic system discharge, and pesticide residue, one in three US lakes are not fit for swimming. In addition to gross stuff in our lakes and rivers, there are signs on the piers of the San Francisco Bay warning those who fish that the fish eaten from that bay may be hazardous to your health.

 

There are many ways you can do your part to help the global water crisis. It's important to conserve as much water as you can by using filtered water instead of bottled, taking shorter showers, and planting water-saving plants in your yard. Every step you take, no matter how small, will help ensure we have enough fresh water for the world in the future.

North Carolina Commission on Fracking

Recently, North Carolina approved the bill to allow fracking (or hydraulic fracturing). In 2013, members of North Carolina's Mining and Energy Commission (NCMEC) are developing regulations for drilling. Drilling could begin as early as 2014.

 

Scientist looking at flask
NCMEC's chairman, Jim Womack, believes North Carolina will require "stringent disclosure laws." Many critics of fracking have shown that natural gas drilling causes earthquakes and water contamination. If North Carolina can obtain full disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking, including the "proprietary" chemicals, it would be a first nation wide.

 

In some situations, environmental regulators may know what chemicals are used in fracking, but there is a question as to allow emergency first responders and medical personnel know the types of chemicals used. Fracking additives can be extremely dangerous and contaminate the ground water. One of the many additives used in fracking is a compound called biocide tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride. In addition to potentially harmful additives, the shale itself can release flammable and toxic chemicals like methane and benzene. These chemicals, since they are being release from the shale, can move more quickly into aquifers and into our groundwater. Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Wate for North Carolina, says, "This is our public groundwater. The public has a right to know."

 

At this time, there are no water filters that remove the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. As science learns more about the proprietary chemicals used in fracking, more filters and filter systems will be able to be tested for and remove unwanted pollutants.  

Is Your Tap Water Making You Sick?

We know that tap water in America is some of the best drinking water in the world. Many people in the world don't have easy access to any water, let alone have drinkable, healthy water coming from three or more faucets in their home at any time. While we are extremely fortunate, recent research indicates our wonderful water may be making us sick.

 

Bottledwater-trash-small

In the last twenty-five years, the number of children and adults with food allergies has sky rocketed. This is a growing concern for the general population, but only recently did researchers look into the link between the high use of environmental pesticides and water purifying chemicals. Chemicals called dichlorophenols have been used to treat groundwater to make it "safe" to drink. According to a study reported by TIME Magazine, over 10,000 participants who had the highest levels of dichlorophenols in their bodies were "80% more likely to have food sensitivities."

 

Because each person is different, the allergic reaction may manifest itself in different ways, however the authors of the study believe dichlorophenols cause a hyper-sensitive immune system reaction which causes common food to be recognized as foreign. These hypersensitivities are thought to affect different systems of the body which may control and regulate daily processes.

 

For the first time in human history, more people are living in cities and urban areas instead of the rural country side. Many people believe the difference in environment and exposure to different things can create more sensitivities and allergies in a person. Another thought is that since dichlorophenols are used to purify water, perhaps they prevent us from being exposed to more bacteria and viruses, causing our immune system to react differently. 

 

Although there is no proven filter to remove contaminants like medications and pharmaceuticals from our water, many water filters will remove heavy metals and contaminants like dichlorophenols. If you're concerned, have your water tested and we will be happy to help find you a filter to meet your needs! 

Will Watersheds Win the War on Fracking?

We like to update our blog with fracking information as often as possible. As more information comes out regarding the chemicals used and the water consumed, it's hard to find the good in fracking these days. 

Scientist looking at flask

Currently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under the Department of the Interior, is developing new rules and regulations on fracking. These new rules include policies on over 750 million acres of both public and private land nationwide. The Secretary of the Interior has even noted that the current rules "are in many ways outdated."

 

The BLM's most recent draft of rules seems to be lacking in several areas. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wants to see the BLM require companies to disclose the chemicals used before fracking takes place, require a base water test of the area's water supply before fracking begins in order to tell in the future if fracking has occured, and they want the BLM to establish high standards for fracking well design and construction and prohibit the use of open air pits for toxic fracking waste disposal. 

 

Because frackings risk are so high, these desired requirements don't seem unfair. Some of the affected areas include the Washington DC water supplies of the Potomac and James Rivers. Fracking in this area would also affect residents of the  Shenandoah Valley area. In Colorado, the water supply for the Denver area (including Centennial, Columbine, Littleton, Aurora, Lakewood, Glendale, and more) in Park County could be targeted for fracking. The White River National Forest in Colorado, which provides water to Carbondale, Vail, Aspen, Gypsum, and Redstone, is also an area where there is proposed fracking.

 

These areas are high in population, so the need for stringent regulations is even greater. Millions of water supplies could be contaminated and without knowing the chemicals fracking companies use. Without knowing what's in our water, we may not be able to remove contaminants with a water filter and doctors may not know how to treat any ailments caused by unknown pollutants. 

 

With fracking becoming an increasingly popular topic, what are your thoughts on it? Share them in the comments! 

 

Is Your Yogurt Hurting the Environment?

The famous yogurt brand, Chobani, might be in some hot water. Recently, it was discovered that the huge factory in New York was pumping millions of gallons of water each day to keep up production. In addition to pumping so much, they never told any regulators about it.

Cows Grazing
Chobani never looked into getting water permits from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission before it started using such large quantities of water. The SRBC has to give express permissions to larger operations wishing to pump water from the river basin. Earlier this year, local residents complained that their drinking water wells were running dry.

Using nearly 1 million gallons of water per day, the SRBC requires businesses pumping more than 100,000 gallons per day to be reviewed. This would ensure the local water supply is not rendered useless, damaged, or causes stress on the environment.

Depending on how severe the SRBC deems the violation, Chobani may have to bay anywhere between $50 and $1000 per day it was in violation of the 100,000 gallon limit. Since massive pumping has been going on since 2007, the yogurt company could be doling out some serious cash.

A spokesperson for Chobani said, “As soon as we became aware that we were not in compiance, we notified [the SRBC] and began the permit application process immediately. We’ve been working extremely closely with [the SRBC] now for nearly 18 months on both developing the test plan to determine the aquifer capacity to supply the plant and surrounding communities, and obtaining the necessary permits.”

Chobani reported itself to the SRBC in August 2011 and the applications for permits filed in September 2011 are still pending. The company is still set to expand its operations in New York, as well as open up the world’s largest yogurt factory in Idaho.

*Read the full article here.

Food Allergies and Pesticides- Is There a Link?

By Megan Vick

You may have noticed lately that the number of people, especially children, with food allergies is increasing. With common allergens such as wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk (and milk products), fish, and shellfish, you may wonder why so many people have allergies.

Healthy-child-drinking-water

On December 3, 2012, the results of a study were released which tested the hypothesis that chemicals, specifically pesticides, in our drinking water may increase food allergies. The study did not find the two were linked. However, this same study did find (to no surprise) that both environmental pollution and food allergies are increasing in the USA.

The researchers found that while pesticides in water do not directly cause food allergies, the increase in chemicals in the water is associated with more food allergies. This study surveyed over 10,000 Americans regarding their health. Researchers analyzed the participants’ urine and determined that dichlorophenol, a chemical used in pesticides, weed-killers, and as a method of chlorinating water, was at measurable levels in over 2200 participants. Of those individuals, over half reported having either a food allergy or an environmental allergy (such as pollen). This information led the researchers to believe dichlorophenols may weaken food tolerance in some people, causing a food allergy. This could also explain why some children outgrow food allergies and why some adults develop them later in life.

Researchers did say that they cannot draw any specific conclusions on the link between pesticides in drinking water and food allergies, but there is enough evidence to warrant more research and more studies. Until we know for certain, it is recommended pregnant women, children, and those with a compromised immune system drink distilled or filtered water to help reduce the risk of developing or aggravating a food allergy.

*Read the whole article by Ryan Jaslow here

Friendly Fracking? Companies Embrace Solar Energy

By Megan Vick

In an odd twist of fate, many fracking companies are looking
to the clean energy sector to provide solar energy options for hydraulic
fracturing. Halliburton Co (yes, the same people responsible for the BP oil
spill in 2010) has a machine which relies on solar generated electricity in
combination with Earth’s gravity to shoot sand into underground rock. This rock
contains the ever-precious natural gas or oil. This little machine is called
the SandCastle.

Hydraulic fracturing plant

 

Fracking has generated tons of controversy because of the
threat to the environment. Specifically, fracking has come under fire for using
“proprietary chemicals” used to release the natural gas. These chemicals do
not have to be released to the public; therefore many people do not know when
the groundwater supply is contaminated. This also causes problems because common household
filters
don’t remove such potent contaminants from the water.

 

Halliburton, along with other companies, is working to build
its fracking clean-up business to continue its “environment-friendly” spin. Now,
Halliburton is promoting a product called CleanStim. CleanStim is a fracking
fluid that is made “almost entirely of enzymes from fruit and vegetable
compounds.” But, like most things involving fracking, we do not know what
CleanStim actually contains since the ingredients are proprietary.  As a symbol of faith, the CEO of Halliburton
drank CleanStim from a jar at an October conference to prove there is nothing
harmful in the fracking fluid.

 

What do you think about friendly fracking? Share your
thoughts in the comments!

 

*See the full article by David Wethe at Bloomberg
Businessweek

What a Wonderful, Watery World

This article is
adapted from the original.

By Megan
Vick

 

Similar to Howard Wolowitz from TV’s The Big Bang Theory, former NASA employee and environmental
engineer, John Feighery, designed the bathroom for the International Space
Station. Feighery and his team needed to focus on efficiency, waste management,
and air and water quality to have a successful system aboard the ISS.

 
Simon Helberg as Howard Wolowitz

In 2003, Feighery changed his focus to helping the global
water crisis. When he spoke to AlertNet, he said, “I’d been working on supplying
clean water to three or four people in space, and meanwhile there are a billion
here on Earth that don’t have it.” This profound change in thought led him to
work in Bangladesh with a group from the US Health and Human Services Department testing
well water. While he was there, he lugged around heavy equipment and had to
take notes and chart locations by hand. Because of his other physically taxing
duties, Feighery decided this process could be, and should be, easier.

 

mWater App for Android

Feighery developed mWater. mWater is an Android app which
records vital information about any given water source. This amazing app allows
a user to input the results of water quality tests and map them. Users can also
notate the appearance of the water, scent, flow, and other defining features. Photographs
can even be uploaded to give more information.

 

 

mWater is an accessible and functional tool to help people
affected by the growing global water crisis. Feighery will be working with UN
Habitat and Rwanda’s ministry of health in the future to teach employees to use
the app. These employees will be able to continue to monitor water sources and
possibly even prevent an outbreak of waterborne illness from reaching the human
population.

 

The app is available for Android devices at the Google Play
Store.

 

 

Rocket Fuel in My Water?!

By Megan Vick

That’s right.  You may have heard about it on the news or seen it online- 26 states have found perchlorate (rocket fuel) in their public water supply. Now the EPA is investigating setting a standard for allowable levels of this chemical in the water supply.

What is Perchlorate?
Perchlorate is derived from perchloric acid and can be both natural and artificial. The most common perchlorate is ammonium perchlorate which is used in pyrotechnics, as well as a component of rocket fuel. Perchlorate can cause numerous health problems both in children and adults.

Rocket

Rocket Launch

Is Perchlorate in Other Things?
Undoubtedly!  Sadly, because it has been found in the water supply, it has been found in many foods.  Rocket fuel has been documented in as much as 93% of samples of both milk and lettuce and as much as 32% of organic produce.  In one FDA study, 97% of mothers tested had perchlorate in their breast milk!  Unfortunately, this seems to be an unavoidable toxin.  Because plants are often irrigated with perchlorate-polluted water the concentration found in produce may be found in higher concentrations than in drinking water.

What Does Perchlorate Do to People?
Perchlorate has been directly linked to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Because perchlorate limits iodide absorption, it was used in the 1950s to treat hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). It has been suggested by the CDC that those individuals with hypothyroidism may be even more at risk. Any additional exposure to perchlorate may be enough to cause significant and substantial changes in thyroid hormones. These changes in hormones could lead to a host of medical disruptions and problems-including weight gain, fatigue, and depression-over a lifetime.

Can You Protect Yourself?
Perchlorate is a unique problem to have in the water. It’s not something water quality tests typically test for, so you may not know if you have it in your water. California and Texas have the highest instances of Water test
rocket fueled water; however it’s likely to be in the water near rocket testing or manufacturing facilities, military bases, and chemical plants. The only surefire way to remove rocket fuel from the water is to drink 100% pure water—either distilled water from the store, or through a system (reverse osmosis or distillation) installed in your home.

The Future
Luckily, there have already been major strides to reduce perchlorate in water supplies. The EPA is in the process of setting allowable levels of perchlorate in drinking water. Ideally this will create new ideas and technologies to remove perchlorate from the water supply to better protect people. However, it may take the EPA two years (or longer) to set an allowable level, and who knows how long it may take to develop a common and price-effective method of removing it from water.