By the numbers, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy is hard to fathom. The so-called super storm swept through eight states, killing 159 people and causing $70 billion in damage.
From power outages to flooded streets, the hurricane exposed alarming weaknesses in the infrastructure of Eastern Seaboard cities. Now, Climate Central, an independent research and journalism organization based in Princeton, N.J., has added another number to that list: 11 billion gallons of sewage flowed into waterways during the storm.
The majority of overflows occurred in New York and northern New Jersey, where untreated and partially treated sewage flowed into surrounding rivers, bays, canals and, in some cases, streets, according to a recent Climate Central report.
“This record storm revealed how vulnerable the sewage and wastewater treatment system is to major coastal flooding,” says Alyson Kenward, a scientist who is the lead author of the report.
For those working to clean up some of the worst water pollutants on Earth, gold and palladium might be getting considerably more precious.
Rice University researchers have been working with the metals for a decade to figure out a way to efficiently destroy complex chemical pollutants. They have announced that the fruit of their labor is a technology called PGClear that they say can quickly decontaminate groundwater. Scientists from Rice, Stanford University and DuPont collaborated on the work, which will first be installed in June at a DuPont plant in Kentucky.
At its heart, the system uses pellets formed from a combination of the two metals. The pellets act as a catalyst to break down persistent cancer-causing industrial solvents like vinyl chloride, trichloroethene and chloroform into nontoxic methane and salt byproducts.
Few places in the world are facing water issues as severe as China. There isn’t enough of it in the country and much of the water it does have is heavily polluted.
Each person can produce 300 liters of sewage daily, a major contributor to water pollution when not treated properly. To improve its water quality, Chinese authorities are constantly constructing more sewage treatment plants. But more treatment means more sludge coming out of the process, which itself requires proper treatment and disposal.
For every 35 cubic feet of sewage treated, 1.7 pounds of sludge is produced. In a country with a population as big as China’s, that means a lot of sludge.
But the country’s scarce water supplies lead to a difficult question. How do you clean up sludge that was created from cleaning up water? The answer could come from the sea.
The rural highlands farmers and herdsmen called campesinos who work the land near Bolivia’s Cerro de Potosí Mountain have had a problem for the last 468 years.
It was way back then when someone stumbling around this dry and dusty section of the Andes kicked over a rock on the mountain and found silver ore. A mine was built that fed the Spanish Empire’s thirst for the precious metal. It still operates today.
Those mining the mountain have slowly chipped away what became known as Cerro Rico—Rich Hill—and, after the silver ore started drying up, expanded their production to other valuable metals found in the ground there: copper, gold, iron, zinc, tin, lead, cadmium and chromium. More than 10,000 still travel down some 600 pitheads to make their pay underground.
The resulting environmental mess caused by metal contamination running out of the mines has made headlines for years. Dozens of toxic minerals spew out of mines, boreholes and tailing piles in the region’s wastewater discharge, including 161 tons of zinc, 157 tons of iron and more than two tons of arsenic that scientists have estimated flow out of just one study area every year. Some streams sampled around Potosí are as acidic as lemon juice from the runoff; others are as basic as milk of magnesia.