Global water topic #2: contamination

Many experts in politics and science warn that water shortages and water quality issues may cause widespread conflict in the near future. In this mini-series of three Mission Water Stories, Saur's CEO Patrick Blethon shares his vision on the water challenges the world is facing. In the previous episode, he discussed climate change. In this story, we look at contamination and resource recovery.

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Topic #2: contamination and resource recovery

'According to UN figures, 297,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. In Latin America, severe pathogenic pollution affects around one third of all rivers. These are just two of many statistics related to water contamination that should deeply disturb us. Which is why at Saur we consider contamination to be the second agenda-setting topic for the water sector.'

Emerging micropollutants

‘Contamination is threatening countless communities, ecosystems and even the water cycle itself. One emerging issue is the presence of many hitherto unmapped micropollutants in treated water. Think of residues from pharmaceutical products, personal care products, chemicals, pesticides, and so on. There are increasing concerns that these micropollutants, often too small to be filtered out of our wastewater, are damaging our water resources, our health and our planet. For instance, they can lead to antibiotic resistance. While we do not yet know as much about them, or about treating them, as we would like to, our experts are making important progress towards finding solutions.

Can we turn a problem into a resource?

‘Again, part of the challenge, in the vision of Saur, is to avoid giving up and giving in to the power of pollution, whether micro or macro. A lot of exciting research is being done into micropollutants and how to treat them. Our own Industrial Water Division is involved in developing and applying new technologies for tackling micropollutants. If we invest and work together, we can learn and change things quickly. One of the big issues is that currently 80 per cent of global wastewater is released into the environment without being collected or treated. Especially in rapidly growing cities in developing countries, the problem this poses is daunting. But can we flip the coin and ask ourselves how we can turn all that wastewater - and the substances it contains - from a problem into a resource? This will not only provide solutions for big challenges, it will also make us more fully human and alive, as we deliver clean water in places where it is less accessible.’