Building the World

May 31, 2019
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WATER: antibiotics on tap

Pills of antibiotic cefalexin. Photographer: Sage Ross, 2014. Image: wikimedia commons.

Feeling sick? It may the drugs you just took when you drank a sip of coffee or a glass of water. Affecting not just humans but aquatic life, medications are entering the water as fast as plastic – they’re just harder to see.

Antibiotics have been found in 65% of over 70 world waterways tested. For example, a site in Bangladesh showed Metronidazole present at levels 300 times the safe limits (20,000 to 32,000 nanogram per liter (ng/l) guidelines set by AMR Industry Alliance). The most frequent contaminant? trimethoprim found at 301 of 711 river testing sites. Most prevalent antibiotic found at dangerous levels: Ciprofloxacin, in 51 of the 72 countries tested.

Chao Phraya River Drainage Basin. Image: wikimedia.

Rivers all over the world show similar results: Chao Phraya, Danube, Seine, Thames.  Some areas of the world suffer infected water more: Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan ranked highest of sites monitored. In general, Asia and Africa frequently exceeded safety limits for antibiotics but problems were also found in Europe, North and South America. In other words, it’s global.

Of course, antibiotics save lives. But that’s just the problem: growing global resistance to antibiotics, anti fungals, antivirals caused 700,000 deaths yearly due to drug-resistant diseases, among them tuberculosis. The United Nations’ Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance predicts that by 2030, over one million people will die every year due drug-resistant diseases.

PROBLEMS: Individuals are in no small part responsible: a study in California revealed half of all medications are discarded, often into the water supply. Another problem: even if we don’t intend to, individuals deposit drugs into the water supply.  People take a lot of drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter; our bodies metabolize only a percentage of the intake, excreting the rest into wastewater systems. And then there are the larger systemic depositors: hospitals try to return unused drugs to manufacturers obtaining a credit or at least assured safe disposal, but care and nursing facilities may not have such arrangements. Certainly drug manufacturers generate highly concentrated waste; downstream of a New York State pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, antibiotic concentrations showed levels 1,000 times higher than normal. And then there’s agriculture: poultry and livestock farming are responsible for two trillion pounds of animal waste filled with the hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals to optimize growth and marketability.

Antibiotics harm fish and aquatic life. Image: Giant Group, Georgia Aquarium, Wikimedia.

Other ways animals are affected? Aquatic life itself is changing: so much estrogen has entered rivers and ponds that male fish are showing genetic changes including the development of intersex fish, especially downstream of wastewater treatment plants: notable is Washington’s Potomac River.

Filters are one approach: water treatment plants have been successful at filtering out ibuprofen but couldn’t catch diclofenax, another pain reliever. Chlorine used in drinking water treatment does reduce bacteria and also degrades acetaminophen and the antibiotic sulfathiazole, and also carbamazepine (by 75%). Still, chemicals are getting into our bodies simply by turning on the tap: Southern Nevada Water Authority found antibiotics, antipsychotics, beta blockers, and tranquilizers in the drinking water as far back as 2010. It is only getting worse.

SOLUTIONS

Pharmaceutical systems include manufacturing, distribution, consumption, disposal, and waste treatment: each step of the process offers opportunities for intervention and innovation. Regulations, at a national, local, or global level, can be effective: compliance is now an industry with consultants like Stericycle with programs “designed to meet regulatory requirements.” Of course, pharmaceutical businesses have in-house programs and systems, including segregating hazardous waste pharmaceuticals that are then sent to a Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility (TSDF). It’s a big business: UBS and Vanguard are investors, along with 500 other financial funds. Stericycle has 22,000 employees: competitors include Republic Services with 36,000 and Waste Management with 42,000 employees. It’s a business of the future: pharmaceutical use shows no sign of decreasing, although there is a movement to encourage safer drugs.

Jardine Water Purification Plant, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Image: wikimedia.

Nations and cities can take action. Water facilities such as the Jardine Water Purification Plant in Chicago, Illinois, world’s largest by volume, draws water from the American Great Lakes for distribution to 390 million urban residents. Research and innovation here could lead the way. In Europe, Germany invested one billion euro in the last two decades to water infrastructure including wastewater collection and treatment, in some ways advancing beyond the EU’s Council Directive 98/83/EC.1

Waterways themselves can innovate. When the Roman Aqueducts were built, it was due to an increasingly polluted Tiber River. When London’s water supply from the Thames became problematic, a public-private system was developed: the New River. Will the Grand Canal of China, part of the Belt and Road Initiative, lead research and action to improve the aquatic environment ? Might Inland Waterways International champion ways to improve the health of rivers and other created waterways?

SOLUTION: YOU – What can you do?

Don’t purchase bulk or volume packaging, avoiding accumulation of unused or expired chemical formulations.

Never flush unused medications, vitamins, or supplements down the drain.

When you must dispose, trash/landfill is preferable to flush/water. First, remove pills from container (recycle container),  then crush the pills, add a bit of water, and seal the result in a strong plastic bag before placing in trash.

MORE

Boxall, Alistair. York Environmental Sustainability Institute, and SETAC Helsinki 2019: https://helsinki.setac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SETAC-Helsinki-programme-book.pdf; and .https://www.york.ac.uk/yesi/news/pharmaceuticals/

Craft. “Stericycle Competitors and Alternatives.” https://craft.co/stericycle/competitors/

Fox, Kara. “The world’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics, new study shows.” 27 May 2019, CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/health/antibiotics-contaminate-worlds-rivers-intl-scli/index.html.

Harvard University. “Drugs in the water.” June 2011, Harvard Health Letter. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/drugs-in-the-water.

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). https://www.setac.org

Stericycle.com NASDAQ: SRCK

University of York. “Antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels, global study finds.” 27 May 2019. https://www.york.ac/uk/news-and-events/news/2019/research/antibiotics-found-in-some-of-worlds-rivers/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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March 8, 2019
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Cities: Green Jewel in Hong Kong

Sandpiper. Image: wikimedia.

Bird watchers in Hong Kong? Nature lovers in Shenzhen? In between these two megacities with a combined population of 20 million, rare birds fly and feed in one of the world’s most precious wetlands. Egrets, herons, sandpipers abound on the mudflats. Will the wetlands, about 4,000 acres, continue to be the green jewel of Hong Kong? Mai Po Nature Reserve is protected by the Ramsar Convention. But Nam Sang Wai, about 400 acre parcel, recently debated a proposal for 10% of the area to build apartments for 6,500 people. Henderson Land Development pledged to model the project on the London Wetland Centre where financing included provisions to preserve the natural habitat. Another precedent? The New River, bringing fresh water to London while preserving a natural walking path, albeit not residential but just recreational. Meanwhile, if you visit Hong Kong or Shenzhen, consider the sampan ride across the Shan Pui River; it’s the only human-powered ferry in Hong Kong.

Ramsar Konvention on Wetlands of International Importance. https://www.ramsar.org.

Ramzy, Austin. “A Rural Patch of Hong Kong Where Rare Birds Sing and Developers Circle.” 17 November 2018. The New York Times. https://nytimes.com/2018/11/17/world/asia/hong-kong-wetlands-mai-po-nam-sang-wai.html.

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March 22, 2018
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Water Day: Wear Blue

World Water Day: Wear Blue. Indigo, popular 5,000 years ago in the Indus Vally where the color gets its name, was called nila. The color dye was popular on the Silk Road. Image: wikimedia

World Water Day: March 22, 2018. We’re an increasingly thirsty world: by 2050, one-third of the planet will suffer water scarcity. Climate change intensifies problems: floods and drought are worse. More than 3 billion people suffer diminished access to water for at least one month each year due to drought: that number is set to increase by 2050 to 5 billion. Mitigating influences of forests and wetlands are vanishing: two-thirds have been cut or built upon since 1900, according to a study released by the United Nations. Rivers are polluted, with ten rivers identified as the major source of marine plastic debris. Think those problems are “elsewhere” and you may be alarmed to find 80% of tap water contains microplastics. What can you do, as an individual? Social scientists observe the original days of the week had a dedicatory purpose, still detectable in the names. For example, the Japanese day Suiyōbi is Wednesday, meaning Water Day. Should we rededicate the days of the week to raise awareness of our shared resources, including water? One fashion leader suggests wearing blue as a way to honor water. Would you consider dedicating one day each week to water?

Schlanger, Zoë. “We can’t engineer our way out of an impending water scarcity epidemic.” 21 March 2018. Quartz Media. https://qz.com/1234012/we-cant-engineer-our-way-out-of-an-impending-water-scarcity-epidemic/

World Water Day. http://worldwaterday.org

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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March 17, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Green Toasts need to be Greener

Green beverages need to be greener: microplastics found in soda, beer, and bottled water. Image: wikimedia.

It’s a day when you may toast with a green beverage. Or perhaps you might drink bottled water, as a convenience or maybe to avoid polluted tap water? Bad news: tests on branded water drinks found 10 plastic particles per liter. SUNY Fredonia’s Professor Sherri “Sam” Mason evaluated major brands, finding plastic in virtually all the samples. Bottlers and processors responded with assurances that their factories use the best filters. Mason commented “It’s not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it is really showing that this is everywhere. Plastic is pervasive and it is pervading water.” The New River of England addressed Thames water in a public/private venture: will new cooperative initiatives remedy the findings of the Natural Environment Research Council? The SUNY-Fredonia study evaluated waters marketed by Coca-Cola, Gerolsteiner, Nestle, Pepsi.  Types of plastic found: polypropylene, nylon, and polyester. Over 500 billion beverages in plastic bottles were sold in 2016: one million bottles per minute. There are, as yet, no regulations on microplastics. Previous studies revealed plastic in tap water, soda, even beer. So if you are one who raises a glass of green today, take note.

Mason, Sherri. “Beads of destruction.” TED Talk on micro plastics in the Great Lakes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0NikCMZCFE

Shukman, David. “Plastic particles found in bottled water.” 15 March 2018. BBChttp://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43388870

Tyree, Chris and Dan Morrison. “INVISIBLES: The plastic inside us.” Orb Mediahttps://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics

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March 3, 2018
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80% of Tap Water Contains Plastic – Can You Design a Solution?

Innovation challenge: design a personal straw – with filter. “Drink with Straw” by Martin Belam, 2006. Image: wikimedia.

A recent study found an alarmingly high percentage of tap water has microscopic plastic fibers. In the United States, 94% of drinking water sample contained micro plastics; worldwide, 83%. The particles are so small, most filters can’t catch them: micro plastics may even cross human digestive tracts to enter organs. Could filters lead the way? Wole Soboyejo and team designed a new microporous and nanoporous water filter. Askwar Hilonga, winner of the Africa Innovation Prize, Royal Academy of Engineering, also designed a water filter based on nanotechnology. With increasing bans on plastic straws, innovation markets may open to new kinds of straws. Now is a good time for innovation. Submit your design for a personal straw – with filter.

Annan, Ebenezer, Kwabena Kan-Dapaah, Salifu T. Azeko, Wole Soboyejo. “Clay Mixtures and the Mechanical Properties of Microporous and Nonporous Ceramic Water Filters. Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering 28 (10): 04016105. May 2016. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)MT.1943-5533-0001596. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/302918873_Clay_Mixtures_and_the_Mechanical_Properties_of_Microporous_and_Nanoporous_Ceramic_Water_Filters.

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk. “Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw.” 26 January 2018. Building the World Blog. http://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/01/26/make-your-next-straw-the-last-straw.

Hilonga, Askwar. “Africa Innovation Prize, Royal Academy of Engineering.” YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNw21Rz37vA

Shmurak, Susannah. “Are There Microplastics in Your Drinking Water?” 24 November 2017. eartheasy. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2017/11/microplastics-drinking-water/.

Timmons, Mark. “Removing micro plastics from drinking water.” March 2017. https://www.uswatersystems.com/blog/2017/12/removing-microplastics-from-your-tap-water/

Tyree, Chris and Dan Morrison, “Plastic fibers pervasive in tap water worldwide, new study shows.” 2017. Deutsche Wellehttp://www.dw.com/en/plastic-fibers-pervasive-in-tap-water-worldwide-new-study-shows/a-40370206

Victor, Daniel. “Bans on Plastic Straws in Restaurants Expand to More Cities.” 3 March 2018. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/03/climate/plastic-straw-bans.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 20, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Straws that Filter Bacteria and Parasites

“Bunch of drinking straws.” Photographer: Nina Matthews. Image: wikimedia commons.

Over two billion people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Death from water-borne diseases takes more lives than violence and war. The answer may be in the humble straw, fitted with a filter. LifeStraw, for example, looks like a regular drinking straw, but inside are filters that can catch anything larger than  two microns, enough to block 99% of parasites, and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid fever. LifeStraw was started by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen who inherited his grandfather’s uniform manufacturing factory; instead, Fransen rebuilt the machines to make a straw with the steel mesh filter that was successful in wiping out guinea worm disease, which went from 3.5 million in 1986 to 25 in 2017. Partners include the Carter Center. The New River of England delivered clean water to London when the Thames needed help; Rome’s aqueducts saved the future of Rome when the Tiber became threatened by poison. LifeStraw has been used in disaster relief in Ecuador, Haiti, Pakistan, and Thailand. Present projects include an initiative to bring clean drinking water to students in locations including Kenya. LifeStraw won a design award at MoMA.

Carter Center. “Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease.” March 2014. https://www.cartercenter.org/donate/corporate-government-foundation-partners/archives/vestergaard-frandsen.html

CFEG. “Mikkel Westergaard Frandsen: 17 Next Generation Family Enterprise Leaders to Watch in ’17” Cambridge Family Enterprise Grouphttps://cfeg.com/nextgenleaders2017/bio/mikkel-vestergaard-frandsen.html.

Garvett, Zaria. “The miraculous straw that lets you drink dirty water.” 5 March 2018. BBC Future. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180305-the-miraculous-straw-that-lets-you-drink-dirty-water/.

Katayama, Lisa. “Fighting Water-Borne Disease in Africa, and Making Millions in the Process.” 25 March 2011. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/1749253/fighting-water-borne-disease-africa-and-making-millions-process/.

lifestraw.com. 

 

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January 26, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw

Make your next straw, the last straw. Image: wikimedia commons.

Americans use 500 million plastic straws – every day. Just to get the picture: that’s enough to fill 127 school buses. Every day. Each person in the United States will statistically use 38,000 plastic straws between the ages of 5 to 64. Most straws end up in the oceans. Why? Even when recycled, most plastic straws are too light, dropping undetected through recycling sorting filters. All waters, even with straws and microbeads, flow to the oceans where 70% of seabirds now have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic bags have been the subject of concern for decades, but plastic straws are among the top ten items found in marine debris. It’s easy to say NO. Mention your preference during your order: “And, no straw, please.” If a straw is required (there are many important medical and special needs), compostable plastic straws may offer a sustainable choice.  Individually, many people carry a personal water bottle or coffee cup; why not consider BYO straw choices like bamboo or stainless steel? A personal straw could address the safety of sips. Here are some straw styles suggested by Strawless Ocean.

Grenier, Adrian. “The Strawless Ocean Initiative.” Interview with Project Earth correspondent Nicholas Ibarguen on how individuals and restaurants could stop using plastic straws. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvGL89HDKE.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Kraut, S. Wagner. “Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea.” Environmental Science & Technology 2017, 51 (21), 12246-12253. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

“Strawless in Seattle” demonstrates how a city can go strawless. Enter your town in the competition https://www.strawlessocean.org/seattle/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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December 15, 2017
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Words and Swords

Word balloon types. Image: wikimedia commons.

Code talk and authorizations. What is the not-so-hidden code in a government directive that certain words or phrasing not be used in budget proposals, lest those words become swords killing the possibility of funding. Forbidden phrases: “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Word prohibitions include “diversity” and “vulnerable.” Authorizations throughout history have varied: some were a notes scrawled from parent to child, as in the Trans-Siberian Railway. Others were private handshakes made public, as in the New River. A few espoused values for the future of humanity: the Atomic Energy Act set the guiding purpose of peace. But de-authorizing certain code words by directive may be one of the few instances where values are so explicitly defined, and demanded. Summing up the reaction of many, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, tweeted: “Here’s a word that’s still allowed: ridiculous.”

What do you think about “science-based” and “evidence-based?” What about the other directives? Can language ever be changed, or is it beyond directive? Abram de Swaan, of the Amsterdam School for Social Research, University of Amsterdam, observed that military conquests cause the spread of new wordings and even languages, but as soon as the newcomers are ousted, language returns to its natural evolution.

De Swaan, Abram. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Wiley 2013. ISBN: 9780745676982. Originally published, Polity Books, 2001.

Sun, Lena H. and Juliet Eilperin. “CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity.” 15 December 2017. The Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.08926eab4d6a

https://www.cdc.gov

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October 27, 2017
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Microbeads

Microbeads: image, wikimedia commons

Tiny formulations of plastic, microbeads can be found in household cleaners, toothpaste, and cosmetics. After using such products, one might rinse the mop, expel the toothpaste, or simply wash one’s hands after applying makeup. But that is not the end; rather, it is the beginning of a journey made by a microbead into the water supply, perhaps culminating in an extra addition to your cup of tea. Microbeads have been found in every kind of water: lakes, rivers, oceans. Microbeads are part of advances in plastics, a substance just over 60 years old that has seen an increase of 560% since its inception. Cosmetic manufacturers like L’Oreal and and Colgate-Palmolive have taken steps to phase out the practice, using instead natural exfoliants such as apricot seeds and walnut shells. Legislation such as the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 helped. In the same year, Canada presented the Microbead Elimination and Monitoring Act.

The Thames River has come back to life, thanks to laws promoting clean water and plastic prevention. Image: wikimedia.

Can emerging and refining legislation on public water supply benefit from historic laws such as the Statutory Foundation of the New River, bringing fresh running water to the city of London, enacted in 1605? Recent efforts to clear the Thames River of plastic are promising: in 1957, the waterway was declared “biologically dead” in part due to lack of repair to Victorian sewers that were damaged by World War II bombing. As repairs began, awareness of other problems such as pesticides and fertilizers improved. There are now 125 species of fish in the Thames. But as one problem was cured, another began to emerge: plastic. In 2015, 70% of the flounder in the Thames had bits of plastic in their systems. Cleaner Thames, a campaign initiated in 2015, battles the plastic waste.

Great Lakes of the United States recently measured 446,000 micro plastic particles/km2 in locations near cities. Image: “Great Lakes from Space,” wikimedia

North American waters are in peril. Recent testing of the waters in the Great Lakes found that, while the average sample contained 43,000 micro plastic particles/km2, some areas near large cities measured more than 466,000 particles/km2. It’s not just drinking water that is polluted by microplastics, it is fish and marine animals. Aquatic life ingests not only large pieces of plastic but also microscopic bits. Next time you enjoy tea with sushi, will you also contribute to community efforts and organizations that may help to prevent microbead pollution?

Baldwin, Austin K., et al. “Plastic debris in 29 Great Lakes Tributaries: Relations to Watershed Attributes and Hydrology.” Environmental Science and Technology, 2016, 50 (19), pp. 103-77-10385. http://pub.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b02917.

Hardach, Sophie. “How the River Thames was brought back from the dead.” 12 November 2015. British Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151111-how-the-river-thames-was-brought-back-from-the-dead/

Sierra Club. “How to handle microbeads.” http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-4-july-august/green-life/how-handle-microbeads

United States Congress. “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.” H.R. 1321. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1321.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 3, 2017
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Glass of Air

“A glass of water” by photographer Derek Jensen, Tysto, 2005. Image: wikimedia commons.

In a world where water is increasingly scarce, can the answer be in the air? In a time when streams may be endangered, where can clean water be found? Water has occasioned innovation from ancient times to present; China, Italy, England, Australia – the most arid country on earth – have all transformed their lands and economies through water innovations. Chilean innovator Hector Pino pursued a new idea when his baby daughter was born with a kidney condition requiring sodium-free water. Now, a parent’s love may change the world.

Pino and co-founders Carlos Blamey, engineer, and Alberto González, designer, are utilizing technology originally developed in Israel to draw water from air. It can run on solar, too. The 748 million people without water infrastructure could now draw clean water in amounts sustaining a household. In cities where old water systems leak lead or in streams once protected now compromised, where could consumers turn? The household FreshWater device produces 28 liters of water per day. A mochila version is in development, making air the ‘magic water bottle’ in your backpack.

For Fresh Water Solutions’ video: http://www.freshwatersolutions.org/#new-page

For more: “How to pull clean water from air.” Bloomberg, Businessweek, 12 January 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-12/pulling-clean-water-from-thin-air

For the Stream Protection Rule, protecting 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest, added as clarification to 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act:https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=OSM-2010-0018-10631

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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