Writer: Dhakshayini Suresh
Impact of Toxic Chemicals in Waters
Water contamination by toxic chemicals is a serious problem for not only the environment but also natural lives. There are a variety of pollutants that introduce these chemicals into water bodies. Heavy metal bioaccumulation can introduce arsenic into water that can cause cancer in the bladder, liver, and even lungs. Cadmium can also be consumed through water causing kidney and lung damage along with bone fragility. Mercury, a global pollutant, can be introduced to water bodies through aquatic metal pollution. Mercury can easily enter the bloodstream if the “mercury water” is inhaled which can cause renal dysfunction. Moreover, one of the most common chemicals dumped into the water are dyes. According to Britannica, a dye is a “substance used to impart colour to textiles, paper, leather, and other materials such that the colouring is not readily altered by washing, heat, light, or other factors...it is an organic compound.” Dye toxicity affects humans when they consume seafood that bioaccumulates dye. Because they are a carcinogenic they are accompanied with a high risk of cancer. Environmentally, dyes partially block sunlight from entering through water and reduce dissolved oxygen which places a heavy stress on aquatic organisms and their food webs. Lastly, according to researchers from Landmark University, “Pharmaceuticals are used widely and unavoidably, thus they enter into the environment through one of these routes indiscriminate disposal of hospital and household waste, landfill leaching, drainage water and sewage. Although pharmaceuticals have been found to exist in various environmental samples at [high] levels, it is considered a great threat to both aquatic lives and humans.” They are capable of causing chronic toxicity to aquatic life and elevate cancer risk in humans. They can also affect endocrine systems among aquatic life by disrupting egg and sperm cell production.
Current Methods of Removing Toxic Chemicals/Organic Compounds from Water Include:
Chlorine Disinfection: According to the CDC, Chlorination is the process of adding chlorine to drinking water to disinfect it and kill germs. While the chemicals could be harmful in high doses, when they are added to water, they all mix in and spread out, resulting in low levels that kill germs but are still safe to drink. It is generally a safe measure to prevent waterborne diseases but does involve some side effects if the chlorine concentration is not normal.
Rapid Sand Filter: A form of common water purification system used in municipal water purification facilities. While it is capable of removing large particles of harmful contaminants, it cannot remove toxic chemicals from the water quite well thus not being an effective method to completely treat water.
Ozone Disinfection: Ozone disinfection is said to be 50 times as effective as Chlorine and has far less harmful side effects for those that consume this form of water. “Ozone (so-called trioxygen) is a blue gas, with a density greater than air, making it an ideal disinfectant for both air and water,” states Prime Facility. Microorganisms do not typically build up an immunity against this method. The primary cost to this type of disinfection, though, is that it is very expensive and not feasible for the treatment of all polluted water bodies.
Reverse Osmosis: A water purification method that uses a porous membrane that cleanses water by removing ions, unwanted molecules or compounds, and even much larger particles. The main setback to this method is that while it does remove harmful contaminants, reverse osmosis can also remove beneficial minerals that are important to the body, like calcium and magnesium at a rate of about 90%.
New Discovery to Aid in Water Purification
A new invention by the name of Matrix Assembly Cluster Source (MACS) is a breakthrough in methods of water treatment. The research was conducted at the College of Engineering at Swansea University with the lead researcher being Professor Richard Palmer. Professor Palmer clarifies: "The harmful organic molecules are destroyed by a powerful oxidising agent, ozone, which is boosted by a catalyst. Usually such catalysts are manufactured by chemical methods using solvents, which creates another problem -- how to deal with the effluents from the manufacturing process? The Swansea innovation is a newly invented machine that manufactures the catalyst by physical methods, involving no solvent, and therefore no effluent. The new technique is a step change in the approach to water treatment and other catalytic processes." The approach incorporates a vacuum-based and solvent free physical process to make a catalyst for treatment. The particles among the catalysts itself are clusters of silver atoms made with the new MACS machine. The clusters are also said to be about 10,000 times smaller than the width of human hair.
What Problems does the new technology address?
One of the major problems in inventing water treatment machines such as MACS has been the typical low cluster production rate which made research limited in this field. But, MACS was able to bypass this by producing enough clusters to study “at the test-tube level,” making far more advanced than other inventions alike. The machine does this by “[scaling] up the intensity of the cluster beam to produce enough grams of cluster powder for practical testing.” Furthermore, the clusters also incorporate the addition of ozone that completely destroys remnant chemical pollutants like nitrophenol in the water.
Limits of this new invention
The primary issue with this technology is that it is relatively new. It claims to be an effective treatment for water pollution but further research needs to be conducted on how cluster production will work on a larger scale beyond just for test-tube research. Furthermore, the complicated structure of the process may give rise to the fact that this could be a potentially expensive method that may not be feasible, which means it requires further studies to comprehend how it can be produced to use globally. There may be other potential risks to using such technology that has not yet been discovered which is why it may not be safe or completely effective in treating large water bodies.
Ongoing Areas of Research in Water Pollution and Cluster inventions
Use of biosensors within the machine to identify and customize water treatment.
Develop a better understanding of the formation of hazardous transformation products during water treatment for reuse and ways to minimize or remove them.
Efficient method for removal of toxic compounds including metals and refractory organics.
Cost effective method to remove dissolved solids from wastewater.
With toxic chemicals already adding on to the exponentially growing crisis that is water pollution, any helpful change or technology is urgent. This new invention is a minor yet imperative solution that will help decrease aquatic contamination while also keeping the water we consume, safe and clean.
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COVID-19 & DISINFECTION WITH OZONE. (2020, March 20). PRIME. https://www.pfss.be/covid-19-disinfection-with-ozone/
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Disinfection with Chlorine | Public Water Systems | Drinking Water | Healthy Water | CDC. (2015, June 22). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/chlorine-disinfection.html
Hancock, N. (2017, January 10). Conventional Water Treatment: Coagulation and Filtration. Safe Drinking Water Foundation. https://www.safewater.org/fact-sheets-1/2017/1/23/conventional-water-treatment
Reverse Osmosis Water Exposed - What They Don’t Tell You. (2016). AquaLiv. https://aqualiv.com/pages/reverse-osmosis-water-filter-health