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Electrodialysis Could Help India’s Drinking Water Problems

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by Michael Keller

The first thing that might come to your mind when asked to think about water in India might be “monsoon,” the drenching season of downpours that is currently plaguing the country with devastating floods.

But India’s bigger problem with water is a deficit, not a surplus. According to UNICEF, the country is home to 16 percent of the world’s population and only 4 percent of its water resources. Demand is already outstripping supply, and surface water sources are being continually degraded from many different sources of pollution. 

That leaves the nation’s groundwater supply to shoulder a heavy burden for a thirsty populace. While these underground sources are considerably cleaner than water that flows on the surface, they also contain significant amounts of dissolved salts that make them brackish. A recent report in the Journal Desalination claims that 60 percent of India’s land area sits atop such brackish waters. 

These saline impurities leave the water less salty than the sea, but relying on it as a source of drinking water can still lead to long-term health impacts. Salty groundwater also doesn’t taste very good, pushing people to look for other sources that might actually be more harmful. What’s more, reverse-osmosis plants, the typical infrastructure used to purify saline water to make it fit for drinking, need a connection to the electric grid for power. Many parts of rural India lack such a power supply.

A recent report by MIT engineers analyzed the problem and found that an acceptable technological solution exists to clearing brackish waters of dissolved salts without needing a nearby electric grid.

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Going Against the Flow: Green Tech, Sensors and Industrial Internet Make Sewer Systems Smart

by Rebecca Ruiz

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.

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A Gold Standard To Treat Serious Groundwater Pollutants?

by Michael Keller

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.

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Seawater and Bacteria Combine To Reduce Sludge in Hong Kong

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by Petti Fong

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.

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