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"Is There a Cure for Cancer at the Bottom of the Great Lakes?" That story and more in the latest edition of "This Week in Water"[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Study Shows That Rural Water Systems Have More Contamination Violations than Their Urban Counterparts

While most people in the U.S. have access to safe drinking water, millions in rural areas are exposed to unhealthy and at times even illegal levels of contaminants. A report published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that health violations were widespread. Anywhere from about 10 to 45 million people may have been affected each year in the past 3 decades. The study was done by taking data from the EPA and looking for violations at thousands of water systems. Contaminants included lead, bacteria, nitrates, arsenic, and others.

Starting in the early 2000s, health violations for drinking water surged in rural areas after the EPA passed rules focused on disinfectants. Chlorine and other chemicals used to clean water can react with organic matter to create new compounds posing their own health risks. It can be costly and challenging to limit the effects of disinfectants in rural areas. Parts of Oklahoma and Texas had repeated violations probably connected to summer temperatures fostering bacteria growth. Maura Allaire, of the University of California, Irvine, and a lead author of the study, told The New York Times that rural communities are struggling to maintain aging infrastructure and keep up with the latest water treatment technologies.

Russia Could Be a Source of Clean Water for China

And in China there are some big problems with poor water quality also. Now there are preliminary plans to import supplies from Russia by using trucks or pipelines to the Kamchatka Peninsula. There the water would be transferred to tanker ships and be transported on a 10-day journey to various Chinese municipal water systems. A representative of Chinese company interested in the large-scale plans said that nowhere else in the world has such a project been done. But, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences said that the proposal is too expensive and pointless. According to the Asia Times, Russia is among the world’s richest countries in terms of water resources. In contrast, China seriously reduced its freshwater reserves during the 1990’s when it rapidly industrialized.

A Hopi Tribe Wins a Court Battle over the Use of Reclaimed Water for Snowmaking

For decades the Hopi in Arizona have challenged using reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking at a ski area not far from the tribe’s reservation. Their efforts until now have been stymied in the courts. But recently, an Arizona state appellate court ruled that the Hopi have the legal right to challenge the Snowbowl Resort’s use of treated effluent to make snow in areas the tribe considers sacred. Reclaimed water is treated after it’s used in homes and businesses, but not to the level where it is safe to drink. The Hopi claim that the water sprayed into the air and then falls as snow contains chemicals, pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, hormones, and personal care products that are left after a limited treatment process. When the snow melts it, along with the contaminants, gets into streams and lakes. One tribal member told The Guardian that "people would never consider using reclaimed water in a Christian baptism ceremony." He also criticized the whole process of making snow, saying "it’s kind of like shaking your fist at God." The court ruling now allows the tribe to present their case to a judge or jury.

There's Excitement over the Discovery of Many New Species of Fungi—Some that Could Possibly Cure Cancers

Scientists studying the bottom of the Great Lakes have found many new species of fungi, and some of them may be able to help fight certain cancers. Robert Cichewicz, a professor of natural products at the University of Oklahoma, led a team of scientists who went to Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior and used a giant scoop to collect sediment from the lake bottoms. Before they started, nothing was known about the fungal component of the lakes. The specimens they dug up were shipped to labs where spores were grown on—of all things—Cheerios. The fungi grow well on the breakfast food, according to Chichewizc.

Compounds produced by the spores were tested against cancers, and the result was that they killed cells associated with a rare form of the disease that grows on the bones of adolescents known as Ewing’s sarcoma. As The Charlevoix Courier reports, use of chemicals in cancer treatment is still a ways off, but researchers are very excited.

The study found almost 450 new species of fungi not previously known to exist which is a boon to science in its own right. According to Chichewicz, fungi are the most brilliant chemists on earth making molecules that humans can use for other purposes.

A New Desalination Technology May Also Charge Your Cellphone

As we hear news about drought and water scarcity around the globe, conversations often turn to desalination. But desal has many drawbacks—it’s expensive, its wastewater discharges could affect marine life and water quality, and it takes a lot of energy—much of which comes from fossil fuels that are a key contributor to climate change. But there’s a new next-generation material on the horizon that could address some of those downsides. They’re called MOFs or metal-organic frameworks.

MOF materials can mimic cells, which allow specific atoms or molecules to pass through its membrane while stopping things they don’t want. That’s known as “selective permeability” and now MOF materials can do the same thing and act as filters to block unwanted compounds—like the salt in seawater.

The team of scientists from Australia and the US say the MOF membranes would be far more energy and cost efficient because there’s no need for high pressure that current desal systems use to force water through filters.

But wait, there’s more. These MOFs could potentially help power your smartphone! That’s because seawater contains a lot of lithium—the stuff used in batteries for a slew of electronics. Those lithium ions are left behind after filtering seawater and they’re easily harvested. And that has an environmental benefit because currently the mining industry uses inefficient chemical treatments to extract lithium from rocks and brines. Still, we’re left with the vexing question of what to do with all that leftover salt, but MOFs are promising technology for the 2.1 billion people on Earth who don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water.

Music Credits: The Fixer, Funkygroove  | Qin, Dr.Guonake  | Jah Moon, Sun Ska Riddim Originale  |  Scott Holmes, Cat and Mouse  |  Grégoire Lourme, Rain  |  Maze, Dark Clouds  |  Creative Commons

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