Flint Michigan is not alone with dirty water.

The recent Democrat Debate conducted in Flint, MI brought awareness to the lead contamination problems with their public water system. Awareness is good but to make it a political issue is probably not the best way to resolve it. My first question that came to mind is: if the major fear is in the old lead pipes carrying the water, why was one water source different than another water source going through the same lead pipes?

Flint’s original source of water was from Lake Heron delivered by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) through the existing lead pipes. The water was already tinted with lead for years. About one year ago, DWSD water source was temporarily changed to the Flint River filtered by the Flint Water Department instead of Detroit and all of a sudden the lead tinted water became a critical and immediate problem. Once the color and test of the new water source was realized, the very old lead pipe infrastructure became the target of health concerns.

The overall problem is actually political and not technical. One bankrupted government, Detroit, jacked up the cost of water to another bankrupted government, Flint, forcing Flint to consider an alternative water source. To save $5 million, Flint decided its long term water solution was to join Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) but required a new water pipeline to be constructed. Unfortunately, this action to be self governed caused DWSD to terminate their contract to provide water to Flint leaving the city with only the river water until the new pipeline from the KWA is completed. This simple change has exposed the need to replace the older lead pipe primary water mains throughout the city. To save a few million in the Flint budget is now going to cost $50 million in infrastructure upgrades.

How many other communities in the US are having concerns about the quality of their water through their ancient water line network? Roswell has been replacing portions of their approximately 350 miles of water lines ranging in size from 2 inch to 48 inch water mains on an ‘as needed basis’. However, I haven’t heard about any street closures lately to replace water lines.

Water is the essence of life. It is not a right to be provided with clean drinking water but it is a necessity for a successful and sustainable community. There is plenty of water on the planet, but a lot of it is not portable. There is technology to desalinate ocean water for drink and crop usage but not everyone is located near the sea shore. Therefore it is extremely important to be able to purify and recycle existing water locally. This is where technology has to be implemented to avoid more events like what is happening in Flint, MI.

There is new advanced technology in the labs that will be able to provide humanity with cleaner water than Mother Nature herself. For the past 200 years water has been tainted with many different toxic contaminated, mostly by the industrial revolution along with the accelerated increase in world population of the homo sapiens.

In the last couple of articles I discussed missed opportunities and stagnation in new innovative technology. Will the discovery of graphene change this? The great potential that graphene has shown with regard to electronics and energy technologies is well known, but there’s quite a bit more to graphene than ‘just’ that…. In particular, the graphene material possesses a number of strange qualities with regard to its interactions with water.

According to Researcher Dr Rahul Nair, University of Manchester ,  “The graphene filters have an astonishingly accurate mesh that allows them to distinguish between atomic species that are only a few percent different in size. On top of this ultra precise separation, it is also ultra fast. Those ions that can go through the layers of graphene do so with such a speed that it’s as if the graphene membranes were an ordinary coffee filter.”

Graphene is not available for commercial use with today’s filtration and desalination systems, but it is just around the corner. Like so many other nano-scale materials, it will revolutionize how we build ‘stuff’ to use in the future.


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