CEO Sonaar Luthra Awarded Speaker & Specialist Grant by US State Department

We are proud to announce that our CEO, Sonaar Luthra, has been awarded a Speaker & Specialist Grant in Water Quality and Climate Change from the US State Department!
This grant - given by invitation only to American experts in a given field to present lectures, serve as consults, or conduct workshops and seminars for professional overseas audiences - will be sending Sonaar to Canada the week of May 12th to give talks on Water Quality, Climate Change & Water Canary sponsored by US Consulates in Montreal, Ottawa & Toronto.
We will be posting more information on public talks as details become available.
The Speaker & Specialist program is sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP):

Day 20: Nitrates

Although the health effects of nitrates on humans are limited, their environmental effects are considerable.  When discharged into streams, rivers and lakes (usually via runoff from agricultural land), nitrates promote bacterial growth which consumes oxygen in water (a condition known as hypoxia) that kills off aquatic life.
Nitrates in drinking water have been tied to blue-baby syndrome, a condition that develops when nitrates metabolize and interact with hemoglobin, creating methaemoglobin, which binds to oxygen and does not release, and can cause cyonisis.  The EPA maximum guideline for Nitrates is 10 parts per million in drinking water.
Few compounds have had as varied an impact as nitrates did in the 20th century: their industrial synthesis made it possible to feed most of the world, while simultaneously making it possible to produce explosives and munitions on an industrial scale.
In an effort to make ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen at the beginning of the 20th century, german chemist Fritz Haber discovered a process for extracting them from the air, producing ammonium nitrate.  It was improved upon by Carl Bosch in 1913, who while leading a research team at BASF developed the first industrial scale application of the process.  This method for producing nitrates allowed Germany to produce gunpowder, and played a central role in their production of weapons in WWI.
The ability to produce nitrates on an industrial scale led to the creation of inorganic fertilizers in the aftermath of the war, which enabled unprecedented production and availability of fertilizer to farmers across the world, serving as a catalyst for what became the "Green Revolution."
Nitrate-based fertilizers remain the backbone of most agricultural activities on earth, however synthetic fertilizers have in recent years been tied to increasing environmental degradation of aquatic and marine life.  By depleting oxygen levels in water, excessive nutrients create aquatic "dead zones" - areas cannot sustain life, and are slowly taken over by plumes of blue-green algae.  The dramatic increase in dead zones across the world now contributes to $400 billion loss to the global economy every year, and is generating demand for nutrient reduction programs across the world.

Further Reading:

Day 19: Benzene

Benzene is an organic chemical compound that is highly toxic in drinking water.  There is no acceptable level of benzene in drinking water as it is a known carcinogen, it is toxic to the haemotopoietic system (which can lead to leukemia) and it has been shown to cause chromosomal aberrations in humans and other species.  The EPA's goal for all utilities is to have no detectable level of benzene in drinking water, however because of limitations of detection, the Maximum Content Level has been set at 5 parts per billion.

Benzene is naturally occurring in crude oil, however its synthesis was not perfected until the late 19th century.  Among its early uses was as an aftershave lotion and an industrial solvent.  It was slowly replaced by toluene in these areas which - although still toxic - was not as carcinogenic.  In 1903 it became an important ingredient in producing decaffeinated coffee, and it found many uses in the consumer products like paint strippers, and rubber cement.  Until the late 1970's it could be purchased in small cans for general-purpose use.  It is currently highly regulated, however it has received renewed attention lately as a core ingredient in fracking fluids that has been discovered in groundwater in areas where natural gas excavation is performed.

Further reading:

Day 18: Arsenic

A 2007 study concluded that over 137 Million people in more than 70 countries suffer from arsenic poisoning in drinking water.  It can cause headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea and drowsiness in mild cases, but at high concentrations will cause committing, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, & stomach pain.  In the worst cases it will lead to comas that result in death.  It is an abundant substance in the earth's crust, and in areas with arsenic-rich rocks, it is often found in groundwater.  It is also found in areas with industrial and mining activities.  Current EPA & WHO guidelines require that drinking water contain no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic.

In contrast to many other contaminants, Arsenic has a long history as both a medicine and poison.  Because the symptoms of arsenic poisoning were not well defined, it proved a discreet weapon in bringing about the deaths of many powerful figures in history - it is even suspected that Napoleon himself was such a victim, as forensic tests of his hair, and accounts in his diaries seem to indicate.  Arsenic has been used as a cosmetic, which in the Victorian era was used to give women a pale complexion to show they spent little time in the sun.  To this day it remains in use in medicine - in fact the FDA recently approved it for use in treating leukemia.

Yet in India, Bangladesh, and regions of the world high in arsenic deposits, its consumption in drinking water is the cause of a major public health epidemic.  Much of Bangladesh's problems began when it undertook a nation-wide effort to dig wells that would allow citizens to avoid using surface water contaminated with bacteria.  It is currently estimated that over 57 million people in Bangladesh are drinking arsenic-contaminated water.
Further Reading:

Day 17: Enteroviruses

Enteroviruses have been shown to occur in high concentrations in untreated and treated water sources.  They are one of the most common causes of human infections, responsible for over 30 million infections in the US every year.  Because enteroviruses are highly resistant to both uv disinfection and chlorination, they are one of the most difficult contaminants to detect and remove from water.  There is no acceptable level of enteroviruses, however because they are not easily detected, they are generally controlled by strict treatment protocols.

It has only been in recent years that treatment and testing guidelines have revealed enteroviruses as a weak spot in how drinking water systems are managed.  Since enteroviruses do not respond to antibiotics, are resistant to disinfection methods, and very difficult to detect, they have more recently been used as strong evidence to promote the use of advanced filtration methods using nano-filters and reverse osmosis.

Further Reading: